NASA just gave the private sector a heads-up: The International Space Station will soon have a vacancy. In a NASA advisory panel meeting last week, NASA chief of human spaceflight William Gerstenmaier essentially confirmed that the space agency is giving up its work in low-Earth orbit.
“We’re going to get out of ISS as quickly as we can. Whether it gets filled in by the private sector or not, NASA’s vision is we’re trying to move out,” Gerstenmaier said.
As ArsTechnica’s Eric Berger writes, the decision turns NASA into the “Chamber of Commerce for outer space.” After the United States stops supporting the International Space Station (ISS) in the 2020s—a move that has been confirmed, for reasons ranging from renewed U.S.-Russian tension to aging equipment on board the space station—no successor station is planned.
Over the weekend, NASA made its first supply refill launch for the ISS in months. The space agency hired a private space travel firm, Orbital ATK, to replenish the six astronauts on the space station with more than 7,000 pounds of cargo and Christmas gifts. NASA’s launch had been delayed due to weather issues.
Due to a combination of government budget cuts and declining costs for the private sector, private space companies have increasingly taken over space exploration and logistics for the U.S. NASA is steadily transitioning in the process from the full-featured space agency of the Apollo area into a R&D-focused organization that relies on contracts with the private sector.