The International Space Station 2022 Transition Plan emphasized NASA’s objective for the microgravity laboratory’s next ten years, which is to significantly advance science, education, and technology on Earth while enabling human spaceflight.
However, NASA’s transition from the ISS to commercial space stations is on a “precarious track,” according to the agency’s safety experts.
During a July meeting, Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel members raised doubts that NASA-backed commercial stations would not be completed before the ISS is decommissioned at the end of the decade and that insufficient funds would hamper such efforts.
“NASA’s Commercial LEO (Leo Earth Orbit) Destinations plans are on a precarious trajectory to realization within a timeframe and within the estimated resources required to maintain a NASA LEO presence,” said panel chair, Patricia Sanders.
We are worried about this,” she added.
Last year, Northrop Grumman, Blue Origin, and Nanoracks headed a group of companies that NASA chose to explore their ideas for commercial space stations through financed Space Act Agreements. Axiom Space and the ESA have a separate arrangement that allows the company access to a port on the ISS where it is getting ready to install multiple commercial modules that will later serve as the foundation of an independent station.
Amy Donahue, a panelist, stated that NASA will not publicly announce the specs for running those stations until late 2024.
“There is tiny margin for maintaining a prolonged US presence in LEO,” she stated, referencing the ISS’s scheduled retirement in 2030.
“The panel was concerned about human-rating a commercial station. The current plan calls for it to be done faster than any other government human spaceflight program since Mercury. So it begs the question of what NASA could do to reduce the chance of missing this deadline, Donahue said.
“From a risk perspective, it’s definitely a problem for us,” she added.