US funding for the ISS ends in 2025 under Trump budget

By Jerry Hume and Greg Pallone, Team Coverage
Last Updated: Monday, February 12, 2018, 4:49 PM EST

Lawmakers are prepared to fight the White House over a new budget for NASA that ends direct public funding for the International Space Station by 2025.

  • President Donald Trump's administration released proposed budget
  • Trump administration wants to turn ISS over to companies
  • ISS used for research, like detecting cancers, improving vaccines
  • READ: Full White House budget plan (.PDF)

The president released the budget Monday, including a $19.6 billion blueprint for NASA. While it's a $500 million increase from last year's proposal, it is still $61 million below NASA's 2017 funding level.

The budget for NASA calls for a renewed effort on space exploration, and to land robotic missions to the moon ahead of a return of humans to the moon as a prelude for further space exploration. The plan would eventually include a lunar space station called the Deep Space Getaway.

The budget provides $10 billion to refocus on exploring space with a lunar space station called the Deep Space Gateway. No specific plans were released.  

To do this, NASA will consolidate other projects and rely more on public-private partnerships, including on the International Space Station, where direct public funding would be eliminated in the next few years.

"The budget proposes to end direct U.S. financial support for the International Space Station in 2025, after which NASA would rely on commercial partners for its low Earth orbit research and technology demonstration requirements," the budget said.

A new $150 million program would support those commercial partners working on development. 

Several other programs will be scrapped or slashed to refocus funding toward this aim, including terminating a new space telescope, and terminating the $100 million Office of Education.

The agency would also transition away from government owned communications satellites, in favor of commercial satellites.

The ISS is a joint project with several other government partners, including Russia, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. The ISS agreements were set through 2024, with plans to extend it to 2030. 

More than 2,000 experiments have been conducted on the ISS that have led to advancements in detecting cancers and improving vaccines. NASA had been looking at extending the life of the station to 2028 and beyond.

If the ISS was to be privatized, the big question is who would want to take it over. NASA spends billions every year to maintain and operate it.

"As a fiscal conservative, you know one of the dumbest things you can do is cancel programs after billions in investment when there is still serious usable life ahead," U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said last week.

Sen. Bill Nelson is the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees NASA. While he did not comment on the report about privatizing the ISS specifically, he did issue a statement Monday, calling the Trump administration's entire NASA budget a "nonstarter:"

"If we’re ever going to get to Mars with humans on board and return them safely, then we need a larger funding increase for NASA. The proposal would also end support for the International Space Station in 2025 and make deep cuts to popular education and science programs. Turning off the lights and walking away from our sole outpost in space at a time when we’re pushing the frontiers of exploration makes no sense.”

The statement echoed a similar one Nelson made last month when the report first came out.

So what does it mean for commercial companies like SpaceX and Boeing, who will be ferrying NASA astronauts to the orbiting outpost in the coming years?

"What this does is enables those two providers to have the capabilities already in place to be able to provide crew transportation for any future commercial stations that are available," said Kathy Lueders, NASA Commercial Crew Program Manager.

The proposed budget fully funds NASA's Space Launch System and Orion capsule at 3.7 billion dollars.

All the ground systems work, integration with the mobile launcher here and software upgrades are in the works this year -- setting the table for the planned unmanned Exploration Mission 1 launch in December 2019, and a crewed mission in a couple of years after -- all launching from the Space Coast.

While the president proposes the budget, it is ultimately Congress that controls the purse strings for NASA.