At last minute, Russia scrubs cargo launch to space station

Posted February 15, 2018

The proposal included plans to end support for the International Space Station (ISS) in 2025, as well the cancellation of NASA's next flagship astronomy mission, along with five Earth Science missions.

In its budget request to be released Monday, the administration would request $150 million in fiscal year 2019, with more in additional years, "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".

The International Space Station is seen in an undated NASA handout picture, June 10, 2015. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. "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".

Aeronautics giant Boeing now operates the station - which weighs roughly 460 tons - on behalf of NASA.

USA aerospace and defense company Boeing (BA) operates the ISS for NASA, being selected as the prime contractor for the Space Station in 1993 and a cost-plus-award-fee contract with NASA that began in 1995.

The ISS is not exclusively a Nasa project - Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada are all involved, as are several private companies.

And NASA already relies on commercial providers - SpaceX and Orbital ATK - to launch and deliver cargo to the space station and plans to use commercially developed spacecraft built by SpaceX and Boeing to ferry astronauts to and from the outpost starting next year.

A three-tonne supply of food, fuel and supplies was just launched for the three Americans, two Russians and one Japanese astronaut now residing in the ISS.

The government has cited higher priorities at the USA space agency for backing the cancellation. Even so, if the station were to be turned over to private companies and maintained beyond 2024, Russia's space hotel could still stand a chance.

But pulling NASA funding would likely still have an effect on the space station's future.

"Their momentum continues this year toward the first integrated launch of the system in fiscal year 2020 around the Moon and a mission with crew in 2023", Lightfoot said.

The International Space Station was photographed from the space shuttle Atlantis as a shuttle departed the orbiting complex for the final time in the early hours of July 19, 2011. President Barack Obama extended that model to hire Boeing and SpaceX to fly astronauts there.

While the budget plan said it places renewed support on returning humans to the moon, followed by human expeditions to Mars and elsewhere, no precise timeline and few details are provided.

According to the Washington Post report, the Trump administration wants to extend the public-private partnership one step further to encourage "the emergence of an environment in [low-Earth orbit] where NASA is one of many customers of a non-governmental human space flight managed and operated enterprise, while providing a smooth and uninterrupted transition".

"In short, we are once again on a path to return to the moon with an eye toward Mars", said Robert Lightfoot, NASA's acting administrator.

The WFIRST was in line after the James Webb Space Telescope, which is going to be launched in 2019, as the next big thing in astronomy mission.