SEATTLE — With the International Space Station (ISS) scheduled to retire in 2030, NASA is placing a huge emphasis on a seamless shift to future private space stations in low-Earth orbit. Many details of that transition are still being worked out, agency officials say.
“The reason this is so important is because we do believe that the impact of a gap will be disruptive,” said ISS director, Robyn Gatens, during a panel discussion at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference earlier this month.
A few key players who could be impacted by that “gap” include scientists looking to send research experiments to space as well as crew and cargo transportation providers. Given NASA’s expected two-year transition period
, a commercial successor must be operating by 2028 to prevent any such complications.
To plan for a smooth shift of research and operations to private space stations by 2030, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy issued a strategy in March of this year that outlines a plan of action. The policy’s overlying objective is for the U.S. to lead in “an emerging marketplace run by commercial and private enterprises engaged in LEO,” ultimately allowing NASA to maintain an “uninterrupted U.S. presence” in low-Earth orbit.
Related: NASA looks to private outposts to build on International Space Station’s legacy
“The reason we at the White House level released a policy on this topic this year is to prepare seven years in advance, so that we do not have to plan for a scenario where there’s a gap,” Ezinne Uzo-Okoro, an assistant director for space policy at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said at the conference.
Because commercial space station services is still an unproven market, however, carrying out such a seamless transition will not be without its challenges. For instance, experts will need to worry about things like technical costs and scheduling risks in terms of design and development of the space…