Author Topic: Article: Trumpís plan to privatize the ISS by 2025 probably wonít work  (Read 10153 times)

Offline Coastal Ron

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An article by Loren Grush on The Verge about a NASA Inspector General opinion about Trump's plan to privatize the ISS by 2025:

Trumpís plan to privatize the ISS by 2025 probably wonít work, NASAís inspector general says  - The Verge

Some quotes from the article:

Quote
Plus, the private space industry hasnít been very enthusiastic about using the ISS either ó for research or for profit. ďCandidly, the scant commercial interest shown in the station over its nearly 20 years of operation gives us pause about the agencyís current plans,Ē Martin said at the hearing.

Quote
However, Martin said today that transitioning the ISS to the private sector probably wouldnít save NASA that much money, anyway.

Thoughts?
If we don't continuously lower the cost to access space, how are we ever going to afford to expand humanity out into space?

Offline QuantumG

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Nanoracks does a pretty good business... but most people prefer to go through CASIS and get a free ride.
Jeff Bezos has billions to spend on rockets and can go at whatever pace he likes! Wow! What pace is he going at? Well... have you heard of Zeno's paradox?

Offline yg1968

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Here's the Senate hearing on which the article is based:

Examining the Future of the International Space Station: Administration Perspectives
https://www.commerce.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/hearings?ID=9B168E39-CF8D-426E-BE8E-B3950F517BD6

« Last Edit: 05/19/2018 01:57 AM by yg1968 »

Offline yg1968

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An article by Loren Grush on The Verge about a NASA Inspector General opinion about Trump's plan to privatize the ISS by 2025:

Trumpís plan to privatize the ISS by 2025 probably wonít work, NASAís inspector general says  - The Verge

Some quotes from the article:

Quote
Plus, the private space industry hasnít been very enthusiastic about using the ISS either ó for research or for profit. ďCandidly, the scant commercial interest shown in the station over its nearly 20 years of operation gives us pause about the agencyís current plans,Ē Martin said at the hearing.

Quote
However, Martin said today that transitioning the ISS to the private sector probably wouldnít save NASA that much money, anyway.

Thoughts?

I will have to watch Martin's assessment for myself but this is a very poor characterization of the ISS' transition plans. The plan is to handover the ISS to a private entity that would manage it or (more likely) replace it with a commercial habitat module, so that NASA can buy services for a LEO research module for a fixed fee. It's essentially the same thing as CRS but for a LEO habitat. The 2025 date isn't set in stone.
« Last Edit: 05/17/2018 03:12 AM by yg1968 »

Online butters

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An article by Loren Grush on The Verge about a NASA Inspector General opinion about Trump's plan to privatize the ISS by 2025:

Trumpís plan to privatize the ISS by 2025 probably wonít work, NASAís inspector general says  - The Verge

Some quotes from the article:

Quote
Plus, the private space industry hasnít been very enthusiastic about using the ISS either ó for research or for profit. ďCandidly, the scant commercial interest shown in the station over its nearly 20 years of operation gives us pause about the agencyís current plans,Ē Martin said at the hearing.

Quote
However, Martin said today that transitioning the ISS to the private sector probably wouldnít save NASA that much money, anyway.

Thoughts?

I will have to watch Martin's assessment for myself but this is a very poor characterization of the ISS' transition plans. The plan is to handover the ISS to a private entity that would manage it or (more likely) replace it with a commercial habitat module, so that NASA can buy services for a LEO research module for a fixed fee. It's essentially the same thing as CRS but for a LEO habitat. The 2025 date isn't set in stone.

But why would any private entity want to assume the operating costs of space station where NASA is going to be the anchor customer and can dictate requirements in exchange for fixed payments? I'd hardly feel sorry for the fool who signs that contract.

Offline Coastal Ron

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The plan is to handover the ISS to a private entity that would manage it...

I'm not sure I understand where the U.S. Government hopes to save money under such an arrangement, since a private entity would have to be able to reduce costs by more than their profit margin in order for that to make fiscal sense for the U.S. Government.

Quote
...or (more likely) replace it with a commercial habitat module, so that NASA can buy services for a LEO research module for a fixed fee.

When you say "commercial habitat module", do you mean a whole new station? Because:

A) A whole new station would probably cost more to build & operate than the current ISS costs to operate through 2028

B) If you're saying an additional module will be added, and only that additional module will be "commercial", what does that mean for all of the science equipment on the rest of the U.S. portion of the station? Would it still be used?

Maybe I haven't paid enough attention to this topic, but I'm not understanding what "value" the private sector is supposed to add?

Quote
It's essentially the same thing as CRS but for a LEO habitat. The 2025 date isn't set in stone.

I think Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) is far more straightforward than what is being proposed for the ISS as a whole, but maybe that's because there are details that have not been worked out yet. Or at least I'm hoping that's the situation, because the OIG doesn't see any value in the proposal...
If we don't continuously lower the cost to access space, how are we ever going to afford to expand humanity out into space?

Offline Proponent

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The most recent space-policy edition of the Planetary Society's Planetary Radio podcast was very negative on the prospects for commercializing ISS.

Offline high road

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The most recent space-policy edition of the Planetary Society's Planetary Radio podcast was very negative on the prospects for commercializing ISS.

Actually, they're pretty negative about commercial space stations in general. Not just commercializing ISS. Space hotels, commercial research labs, having the gateway station run by a commercial partner (if at all), foreign governments with nascent space programmes as main tenants, Bigelow aerospace, etc. Even keeping ISS running to 2025 on public money is put up to scrutiny.

The points they raise are all valid. The only reason to have a commercial station at this point, is if NASA or other government organizations want research in microgravity to remain/become a priority. Too early for space tourism, too early for commercial activities to pay for their own fundamental research. Little national pride to be had from hiring room on a space station. There is no roadmap from LEO to Mars. There is no roadmap from flags and footprints on Mars to humanity becoming a multiplanetary species. But I still believe there is a roadmap from the right government funded research in microgravity to becoming a multiplanetary species. Priorities.

Offline yg1968

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The plan is to handover the ISS to a private entity that would manage it...

I'm not sure I understand where the U.S. Government hopes to save money under such an arrangement, since a private entity would have to be able to reduce costs by more than their profit margin in order for that to make fiscal sense for the U.S. Government.

Quote
...or (more likely) replace it with a commercial habitat module, so that NASA can buy services for a LEO research module for a fixed fee.

When you say "commercial habitat module", do you mean a whole new station? Because:

A) A whole new station would probably cost more to build & operate than the current ISS costs to operate through 2028

B) If you're saying an additional module will be added, and only that additional module will be "commercial", what does that mean for all of the science equipment on the rest of the U.S. portion of the station? Would it still be used?

Maybe I haven't paid enough attention to this topic, but I'm not understanding what "value" the private sector is supposed to add?

Quote
It's essentially the same thing as CRS but for a LEO habitat. The 2025 date isn't set in stone.

I think Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) is far more straightforward than what is being proposed for the ISS as a whole, but maybe that's because there are details that have not been worked out yet. Or at least I'm hoping that's the situation, because the OIG doesn't see any value in the proposal...

The general idea would be for NASA to rent out a module from Bigelow or from one of its competitors at a much lower price. That was the long term plan even under Obama (but probably after 2028). Bigelow had posted his rental prices a couple of years ago and they were substantially cheaper than $3B per year. I am assuming that a Bigelow module would not be staffed with 7 people, all year long. Like I said, 2025 isn't set in stone. But if you extend the ISS until 2028, you must also extend commercial crew and cargo until 2028 and that means that NASA has to keep spending $3B per year on the ISS.
« Last Edit: 05/17/2018 03:53 PM by yg1968 »

Offline yg1968

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An article by Loren Grush on The Verge about a NASA Inspector General opinion about Trump's plan to privatize the ISS by 2025:

Trumpís plan to privatize the ISS by 2025 probably wonít work, NASAís inspector general says  - The Verge

Some quotes from the article:

Quote
Plus, the private space industry hasnít been very enthusiastic about using the ISS either ó for research or for profit. ďCandidly, the scant commercial interest shown in the station over its nearly 20 years of operation gives us pause about the agencyís current plans,Ē Martin said at the hearing.

Quote
However, Martin said today that transitioning the ISS to the private sector probably wouldnít save NASA that much money, anyway.

Thoughts?

I will have to watch Martin's assessment for myself but this is a very poor characterization of the ISS' transition plans. The plan is to handover the ISS to a private entity that would manage it or (more likely) replace it with a commercial habitat module, so that NASA can buy services for a LEO research module for a fixed fee. It's essentially the same thing as CRS but for a LEO habitat. The 2025 date isn't set in stone.

But why would any private entity want to assume the operating costs of space station where NASA is going to be the anchor customer and can dictate requirements in exchange for fixed payments? I'd hardly feel sorry for the fool who signs that contract.

I agree and that is why I think that this option is unlikely. Too many strings attached. But I suspect that this option is on the table only to soften the blow with people like Cruz that believe that Texas would lose out if the ISS is deorbited.

Offline rsnellenberger

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When you say "commercial habitat module", do you mean a whole new station? Because:

A) A whole new station would probably cost more to build & operate than the current ISS costs to operate through 2028

B) If you're saying an additional module will be added, and only that additional module will be "commercial", what does that mean for all of the science equipment on the rest of the U.S. portion of the station? Would it still be used?

Maybe I haven't paid enough attention to this topic, but I'm not understanding what "value" the private sector is supposed to add?
How many of the rack slots in the Lab module are "allocated" to ECLSS vs. lab equipment?  Would any/all of those lab equipment slots be compatible with the standard "sleeping quarters" racks?

Also... notwithstanding that it wasn't outfitted and that there's (currently) no way to get it to ISS, whatever happened to the Hab module hull that Boeing was building -- was it scrapped, stored somewhere, or put on display? 
« Last Edit: 05/17/2018 04:16 PM by rsnellenberger »

Offline Inoeth

So from reading about the Senate hearing with Mr Gerstenmier, both Ted Cruz (R Texas) and Bill Nelson (D Florida) were in lock-step pretty much that they also thought that this transition to happen in 2025 won't work and won't happen as far as they're concerned. I watched the House hearing where there were again a lot of hard questions about the transition, possible viable alternatives, the costs of those alternatives vs keeping ISS going, and the (relatively minimal) cost savings of turning the ISS over to private enterprises or the question of deorbiting the ISS and having (possibly multiple) private space stations, etc... They also brought up issues of ceding low earth orbit to China, their international agreements, long term low gravity/high radiation science, and more.  Mr Brooks did his usual anti-spaceX shtick but the rest of the congressmen/women asked intelligent questions for the most part...

The general feeling I get from watching/reading the hearings is that at the very least, I won't be remotely surprised if the ISS isn't at least extended until 2028, tho I do find it a very good thing that they're looking now at possible transition possibilities and their consequences...

 I agree that commercial space isn't yet up to the task of financially viable private space stations - yet. 2028 would be a full decade from now and by then we should be in a very, very different place. The question is in the meantime, there is a limit on the NASA budget and the question of how to viably maintain and operate the ISS, build and operate programs like the LOP-G plus other crazy things like SLS...

Offline high road

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The plan is to handover the ISS to a private entity that would manage it...

I'm not sure I understand where the U.S. Government hopes to save money under such an arrangement, since a private entity would have to be able to reduce costs by more than their profit margin in order for that to make fiscal sense for the U.S. Government.

Quote
...or (more likely) replace it with a commercial habitat module, so that NASA can buy services for a LEO research module for a fixed fee.

When you say "commercial habitat module", do you mean a whole new station? Because:

A) A whole new station would probably cost more to build & operate than the current ISS costs to operate through 2028

B) If you're saying an additional module will be added, and only that additional module will be "commercial", what does that mean for all of the science equipment on the rest of the U.S. portion of the station? Would it still be used?

Maybe I haven't paid enough attention to this topic, but I'm not understanding what "value" the private sector is supposed to add?

Quote
It's essentially the same thing as CRS but for a LEO habitat. The 2025 date isn't set in stone.

I think Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) is far more straightforward than what is being proposed for the ISS as a whole, but maybe that's because there are details that have not been worked out yet. Or at least I'm hoping that's the situation, because the OIG doesn't see any value in the proposal...

The general idea would be for NASA to rent out a module from Bigelow or from one of its competitors at a much lower price. That was the long term plan even under Obama (but probably after 2028). Bigelow had posted his rental prices a couple of years ago and they were substantially cheaper than $3B per year. I am assuming that a Bigelow module would not be staffed with 7 people, all year long. Like I said, 2025 isn't set in stone. But if you extend the ISS until 2028, you must also extend commercial crew and cargo until 2028 and that means that NASA has to keep spending $3B per year on the ISS.

Well, that's an unfair comparison. According to FY2018 budget request, only 1.093 billion went to ISS operations and and maintenance in 2016, which is the part where Bigelow charges for. Crew and resupply gobble up most of that 3 billion dollars, with the actual research itself coming in at 344 million dollars. None of that is taken into account in Bigelow's rent.

"Substantially lower" would mean what? 33%? 50%? Certainly not 90%. NASA would still have to spend 1.5-2 billion dollars. It's not like you're freeing up enough to really allow alternative destinations. On the other hand, using that 3 billion to do 2-3 times as much in LEO, preferably even more with commercial partnerships, now that would get us a lot further along to the point of getting that off-world economy going.
« Last Edit: 05/18/2018 12:10 PM by high road »

Offline yg1968

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I wasn't trying to make an apple to apple comparison. My understanding is that NASA's objective in completely privatizing LEO would be to reduce the amount spent on LEO research (I am guessing to  less than a billion per year).  Half of the ISS' budget is related to commercial crew and cargo. Spending on those services would also go down because less missions would be ordered by NASA. The bulk of NASA's activities would not be in LEO anymore.
« Last Edit: 05/18/2018 11:30 PM by yg1968 »

Offline yg1968

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Here is the ISS transition report which is discussed during the hearing:
https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/iss_transition_report_180330.pdf

Offline yg1968

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There was also a House hearing on the same topic (starts at 26m):

Full Committee Hearing - Americaís Human Presence in Low-Earth Orbit

https://science.house.gov/legislation/hearings/full-committee-hearing-america-s-human-presence-low-earth-orbit

« Last Edit: 05/19/2018 03:11 AM by yg1968 »

Offline yg1968

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The House hearing was much better than the Senate hearing. A lot more constructive. One of the important things that Gerst mentioned during the hearing is that NASA will need commercial cargo for both the LEO commercial habitat and for the LOP-G. Gerst was trying to reassure a Congressman from Florida that was concerned about the future of commercial crew and cargo after 2025. Gerst mentioned that the other international partners were contributing about $2B per year to the ISS (the US' contribution is about $3.5B with half of that being spent on commercial crew and cargo).
« Last Edit: 05/20/2018 01:26 AM by yg1968 »

Offline Joseph Peterson

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I wasn't trying to make an apple to apple comparison. My understanding is that NASA's objective in completely privatizing LEO would be to reduce the amount spent on LEO research (I am guessing to  less than a billion per year).  Half of the ISS' budget is related to commercial crew and cargo. Spending on those services would also go down because less missions would be ordered by NASA. The bulk of NASA's activities would not be in LEO anymore.

Transportation costs are not going to drop as much as you expect.  Fixed costs have to be paid to maintain LEO launch capacity.  Dragon and Starliner marginal costs are similar whether they carry one person or seven.  The same applies to partially full supply craft.  Even if we cut the number of providers it is hard to see cutting launch costs and capacity payments below $1.5 billion.  Add the rent check to Bigelow and something for the astronauts to do and we're looking at a bill of at least $2 billion.
If ZBLAN can't pay for commercial stations, we'll just have to keep looking until we find other products that can combine to support humans earning a living in space.

Offline Coastal Ron

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I wasn't trying to make an apple to apple comparison. My understanding is that NASA's objective in completely privatizing LEO would be to reduce the amount spent on LEO research (I am guessing to  less than a billion per year).  Half of the ISS' budget is related to commercial crew and cargo. Spending on those services would also go down because less missions would be ordered by NASA. The bulk of NASA's activities would not be in LEO anymore.

Transportation costs are not going to drop as much as you expect.  Fixed costs have to be paid to maintain LEO launch capacity.  Dragon and Starliner marginal costs are similar whether they carry one person or seven.  The same applies to partially full supply craft.  Even if we cut the number of providers it is hard to see cutting launch costs and capacity payments below $1.5 billion.

And to expand upon your point, in order to do ANY science on the ISS you have to first have staff on board that can maintain the ISS systems. Today it is only with EXCESS staff that they are able to do science experiments, and the addition of a 7th crew person is going to dramatically increase the amount of science that can be done since that person can be pretty much 100% dedicated to science.

Minimum staffing would be two people from the U.S., and two contributed by Russia (which could be other ISS partner crew hitching a ride on a Soyuz), but that pretty much covers just the maintenance. And unless the U.S. side plans to do more 1 year human experiments, then two Commercial Crew trips would still be needed every year.

Not sure where you cut visiting vehicle schedules if you still want to use the ISS for science.

Quote
Add the rent check to Bigelow and something for the astronauts to do and we're looking at a bill of at least $2 billion.

I don't see how Bigelow is part of this equation at all. As much as I want Bigelow to be successful, so far the market has not allowed him to progress far enough that could reasonably expect him to be able to build, test and certify a BA330 by 2025. Not to NASA specs at least. Just look how long it's taking Commercial Crew - 8 years if we're lucky from program kickoff.

And I doubt NASA would be able to get away with a single-source award for a space station module to Bigelow, so there would need to be some period of contract competition.

I just don't think this plan has been well thought out by the administration. Not enough specifics have been provided to understand what is and is not possible.
If we don't continuously lower the cost to access space, how are we ever going to afford to expand humanity out into space?

Offline TomH

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I don't see how Bigelow is part of this equation at all. As much as I want Bigelow to be successful, so far the market has not allowed him to progress far enough that could reasonably expect him to be able to build, test and certify a BA330 by 2025. Not to NASA specs at least.

There has been a small Bigelow module attached to ISS for just over two years, undergoing testing. I have no idea how well that testing has gone nor to what extent it will help qualify the proposed larger modules. I do know that the original 2 year test period was recently given an extension of 3 more years.

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