The Trump administration is planning to end funding for the International Space Station (ISS) and turn it into a self-supporting commercial venture, according to a Nasa document obtained by the Washington Post.
Reports have circulated for several weeks that the US government was planning to halt Nasa spending on the programme after 2024 and save up to $4 billion each year.
Supporters fear the rumours and leaks risk deterring other nations from continuing their support for a collaborative effort that launched in 1998 and has welcomed astronauts, cosmonauts and space tourists from 17 countries.
The internal Nasa document suggests that although direct federal money could end, the White House is not planning to abandon the orbiting laboratory altogether but will essentially privatise the effort.
“The decision to end direct federal support for the ISS in 2025 does not imply that the platform itself will be de-orbited at that time – it is possible that industry could continue to operate certain elements or capabilities of the ISS as part of a future commercial platform,” the document states.
“Nasa will expand international and commercial partnerships over the next seven years in order to ensure continued human access to and presence in low Earth orbit.”
Some plans to generate income are already under way. An expandable, inflatable pod has been attached to the space station for testing to see whether a “space hotel” might one day be connected to the orbiting craft.
The federal budget is due to be published on Monday, and is expected to include $150 million in 2019 “to enable the development and maturation of commercial entities and capabilities which will ensure that commercial successors to the ISS —potentially including elements of the ISS — are operational when they are needed”.
In numbers | International Space Station
The ISS has been crewed continually since 2000.
Nasa is currently investigating whether the life of the space station could be extended to 2028.
Its role and upkeep have evolved ever since the first components blasted into space almost 20 years ago. Boeing currently operates the station for Nasa, while Elon Musk’s SpaceX began regular cargo supply flights using its Dragon spacecraft in 2012.
For its part Nasa has refused to comment on the leaks before the president publishes his budget.