3 Reasons Trump’s Plan to Privatize the International Space Station Won’t (and Shouldn’t) Happen

Dabbling in real estate and looking for a way to invest hundreds of millions of dollars with virtually no chance of return? Then the International Space Station (ISS) is for you.

Discontinuing funding for space station operations after 2024 and turning the job over to the private sector after that is something the Trump Administration is currently contemplating, the Washington Post reports. The good news is this will surely never happen. The bad news is that the White House is even considering a plan that fails on so many levels.

Here are the three big ones.

Privatizing the Space Station is a fiscal loser

The International Space Station was first proposed in 1984 by then-President Ronald Reagan. Back then it was called the Freedom Space Station, and back then it was supposed to cost just $8 billion ($19 billion in 2017 dollars). Things haven’t worked out quite that way, with $100 billion the generally accepted figure for what the U.S. has spent on the station so far — and many analysts putting the figure closer to $150 billion, once you take support costs into consideration. Just maintaining the completed station costs up to $4 billion per year — big money for a space agency whose overall annual budget is less than $20 billion. So it’s an investment that the government might well want to unload. But as with all distressed properties, the question is, who would want it?

The station was never intended to be a money-making operation, and after more than 17 years of continuous operation, it has succeeded in not earning so much as a dime. For starters, flights to the station do not come cheap. In 2018, Russia will be charging the U.S. $81 million per seat to launch astronauts aboard the Soyuz spacecraft. American companies don’t offer much more of a bargain: The Falcon 9, for example — SpaceX’s workhorse rocket — costs $62 million per launch. For private sector lessees who want to operate the station as a working lab, that’s an awful lot to spend just to get your employees to work.

The cost doesn’t go down to fly tourists to the station. Unless the space station lessees also own their own rockets, profits from a ticket will go to the companies that do the launching. What’s more, the station typically holds six people, and while it may eventually be reconfigured to accommodate as many as nine, most of those crew members have to be pilots and engineers. That leaves only a few spots for paying tourists. A hotel with seven or eight employees for every guest is not going to turn much profit.

Privatizing the Space Station is a scientific loser

There are two main reasons the research aboard the ISS doesn’t get done on Earth: The microgravity aboard the station provides an environment not available on the planet, and the studies conducted there are largely pure science — done strictly to advance the state of knowledge. Maybe there will eventually be commercial applications, but with no stockholders demanding …read more

Source:: Time – Science


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