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Who's Going to Buy the International Space Station?

Who's Going to Buy the International Space Station?
From Wired - February 12, 2018

For sale: orbiting space station. Room for eight. Fantastic views of Earth. Commercial opportunities for zero-g manufacturing, research lab, or floating hotel. Cost: $3 to 4 billion a year. Any takers?

President Trumps new budget request, released Monday, directs NASA to leave behind the International Space Station and explore the moon as a first step toward reaching Mars. The spending plan ends funding of the International Space Station by 2025, replacing taxpayers money with revenue from private firms. It proposes $150 million to help get companies to transition to this brave new industrial park.

While NASA and space enthusiasts have been talking about privatizing the station for years, Mondays announcement is the first time the idea has been officially endorsed by the White House. Advocates of a mission to Mars note that NASA is spending too much on keeping the ISS in orbit, and that it dilutes the mission of the space agency in terms of human space exploration. By putting an endpoint on US government involvement in the station, they argue, its new chapter can begin.

That means a lot to companies trying to attract customers who may want to take a gamble on setting up shop in orbitusing the space to develop new kinds of materials, test pharmaceuticals, or just provide a cool hideout for wealthy tourists.

Not only is the administration saying, heres our suggestion, lets put in some budget money for companies to transition, but it also allows companies to raise money, and line up investors, says Jeffrey Manber, CEO of Texas-based space logistics firm NanoRacks, which has sent more than 600 commercial and educational payloads to the station since 2009. Most are standardized mini-laboratories that plug directly into an existing equipment rack on the station. These small experiments rely on zero-gravity conditions on the ISS and are a testbed for a scaled-up manufacturing facility of the future.

Rather than selling the ISS to a big corporation (Boeing currently operates the station for NASA), Manber suggests splitting it up into pieces. There could be a space hotel in one orbital location, for example, with another one set up especially for manufacturing. You could cannibalize the station, he says. If the goal is having a facility for manufacture of thin film silicon wafers, you dont want a guy exercising on a bicycle next to it.

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