The International Space Station is a floating laboratory and an international project, but permanent it is not.
“The space station program will come to an end at some point," said Kyle Herring, a spokesman for NASA.
What You Need To Know
- The International Space Station is budgeted through 2024, but that could be extended to 2028
- Former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria's company Axiom Space is hoping to step in and help commercialize low-Earth orbit
- Lopez-Alegria sees microgravity construction as a promising field
Herring said that while the science experiments being done in microgravity are invaluable, everything comes with a cost.
The ISS is only budgeted through 2024, possibly 2028.
“NASA’s big picture is to step aside, eventually, turn low-Earth orbit over to the commercial space industry, let that foster and grow. And our focus with the Artemis program is deep space, go back to the moon, and then go further," Herring said.
Michael Lopez-Alegria is part of one such company that is hoping to commercialize low-Earth orbit.
First inspired at the age of 11 by the Apollo 11 launch and moon landing, Lopez-Alegria spent two decades as an astronaut with NASA journeying beyond imagination.
“The view of the Earth is just spectacular. We’re 250 miles up," he said. "The Earth is turning below us — that vantage point is hard to put into words.”
Lopez-Alegria's company, Axiom Space, came to NASA with a proposal. It turned into a contract, which the former astronaut — recently inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame — said was faith affirming.
Axiom Space plans to build and launch commercial modules, starting in 2024, to attach to the ISS. One day, they will detach the modules if the ISS bids adieu.
The venture would allow countries the world over to rent space in space, adding more as demand rises.
It’s an invaluable orbiting outpost and international laboratory.— Julie Gargotta (@juliegargotta) April 20, 2021
But there may come a time when the @Space_Station goes away.
So, what’s next for the ISS? For us? We caught up w/ private co. @Axiom_Space & @NASA at @NASAKennedy to learn more. Story @MyNews13 tomorrow 🚀 pic.twitter.com/4pHu6Wo0sz
“There could be a day, instead of operating our own space station, we utilize the commercial space stations that other companies like Axiom may build," said Herring.
“If a company says, 'I want to build this widget in space and here’s what I want my in-space factory to look like,' we’ll build a module for that," said Lopez-Alegria. “We really think there is a great future in terms of microgravity manufacturing.”
According to Axiom's VP of Business Development, all things gravity-driven, like sedimentation or convection, tend to put in impurities into products. The processes in space are more precise--and profitable.
"We can make fiber optic cable ... that is so much more uniform, that transmission speeds are 100 times faster than what you can build on Earth," he said. “We all have a common belief this is a solution that makes good sense as a business, but even more importantly for the betterment of the nation.”
Axiom Space is building their first module already, with the structure crafted in Italy. They will then integrate it in their facility in Houston before launch.
The space company said that launches will blast off from Central Florida's Space Coast on commercial providers, like SpaceX or Blue Origin. And the venture may open up a handful of jobs in the area as well.
“I think in 10 years, you may see more than one commercial space station in low-Earth orbit, and in 20 years, you’ll see multiple," Lopez-Alegria said. “We will see a time when low-Earth orbit becomes like another land, a place we can visit to have fun, to do work, to experience what it’s like. And having been there, I can tell you that experience is not like visiting any other land on Earth. It’s quite literally out of this world."