ISS transition to commercial stations poses challenges for partners


WASHINGTON — NASA’s plans to transition from the International Space Station to commercial space stations could force a key partner to rethink its cooperation in low Earth orbit.

Speaking at a panel on space diplomacy hosted by George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute on February 23, Sylvie Espinasse, head of the European Space Agency’s office in Washington, said current agreements between ISS partners to barter resources would not work well on future commercial stations. in low Earth orbit.

“ESA-NASA cooperation on the ISS is based on the non-exchange of funds and the barter of goods and services between the partners,” she said. “This allows ESA to use its in-orbit asset, the Columbus module, and fly its European astronauts.”

Once NASA transitions to commercial stations, “ESA will likely not be able to purchase commercial services from U.S. vendors for its LEO research activities or to fly its astronauts,” she said. warned. “It will probably not be acceptable to our member states.” Buying services from American companies, she explained, would contradict an ESA mandate to support the European space industry.

ESA doesn’t have a formal plan for operations in LEO after the ISS retires in 2030, but Espinasse said there were several possible options if the agency couldn’t purchase services directly from ESA. American companies. One would be for NASA to be a middleman, buying services from commercial stations and then haggling with ESA as it does today on the ISS.

“NASA becomes an intermediary between ESA and American suppliers,” she said. “But I don’t think that kind of solution can be a long-term solution. It’s too complex.

A long-term solution, she said, must involve a common interest between partners. “In the case of Europe and ESA, we will have to find our own way to low Earth orbit with our industry,” she said. This could be an “all-European” solution for a commercial station or industrial partnerships bringing together American and European companies jointly operating a station.

An example of such a partnership she cited is the cooperation between Northrop Grumman and Thales Alenia Space on the Cygnus spacecraft, developed by Northrop but using major components built by Thales. “It could be beneficial for European industry, by participating in these consortia, and may be acceptable to our Member States.” Notably, Northrop is one of three companies that won NASA’s Commercial LEO Destination (CLD) awards in December, offering a station that leverages its work on the Cygnus spacecraft.

unique to NASA ISS transition planreleased in January, envisioned a role for current ISS partners on commercial space stations, but offered few details on how future arrangements would work.

“Each partner is currently working to identify its LEO needs across and beyond the ISS, and all have expressed interest in expanding commercial uses of LEO,” the document states. “NASA intends to ensure continued collaboration with partners on a US CLD through government-to-government, government-to-industry, or industry-to-industry agreements.”

“NASA is assessing the capabilities and desires of the existing ISS partnership, as well as new space entrants, to partner in continued LEO operations after the ISS,” the report adds, including interviews with partners on their “interest in capabilities on US CLDs must include their potential needs in the Agency’s forward planning.

ESA, meanwhile, has launched what Espinasse called “an internal reflection on the post-ISS and how to meet European LEO needs”. At a European space summit on February 16, ESA announced it would create a “high-level advisory group” to examine options for European human spaceflight, with an interim report expected before the next ESA ministerial meeting in November. “We’ll see where it takes us in the months to come,” she said.

She added that the ISS partnership model should work well on exploration efforts like the NASA-led Lunar Gateway, where ESA, the Canadian Space Agency and Japanese space agency JAXA are all contributing resources. components in exchange for the flight of astronauts to the moon. “There, the model of cooperation with partners – CSA, JAXA and ESA – is quite similar to that of the ISS,” she said. Operations on the lunar surface, she added, could enable additional partnership opportunities for these and other agencies.

“I don’t see a model of cooperation in the future, something as monolithic as the ISS”, she concluded, “but rather different models adapted to the common objectives, requirements and priorities of the different partners”.


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