Twenty years after astronauts travel full-time, the International Space Station is coming to an end, opening up a new geopolitical landscape on Earth.
Why is it important: The end of the program will force the countries cooperating on the station, along with China and other countries entering the human space field, to recalibrate. Instead, they could also turn their attention to cooperating – or competing – on the Moon.
Play state: The US may end support for the space station by the end of 2024, but NASA and its partners are looking to extend its life to 2028.
- Either way, the countries involved in the ISS program are working to collaborate on NASA̵7;s Artemis Moon mission, which is expected to bring humans to the lunar surface by 2024.
- The European Space Agency signed last week to help build a small Gateway space station that will orbit the Moon and act as a starting point for surface missions.
- Japan and Canada, which also cooperate on the ISS, are also working on Gateway.
Plot: Space stations have always existed in orbit, forcing the US, Russia and about a dozen other countries together in their space ambitions.
- But the end of the ISS could pull the US and Russia apart.
- It’s not yet clear where Russia – one of the biggest supporters of ISS – will land when it comes to post-space station cooperation.
- Dmitry Rogozin, the head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, has spoken out against the Gateway station, calling the Artemis Moon plans “the focus of the United States”.
Between lines: Another aspect of the post-ISS geopolitical landscape is the ambition to build their own station around Earth, which is expected to come into service by the time the ISS is over.
- That could pull potential US partners in the space to China instead, with some experts suggesting that Russia might find new ways to cooperate with China.
- “I don’t think Russia and China will immediately become best friends. … They have their own problems in their relationship, but it does offer an alternative and an option. other countries may not join the current US, Russia and ISS, ”Victoria Samson of World Security told me.
Big picture: However, not all attention will be on the Moon at the end of the space station. NASA is hoping to use the private space stations being developed as a demonstration basis for missions to deeper space.
- Those space stations could be places where nations can also collaborate.
- “I guess the international partners will buy time on those commercial vehicles,” former NASA administrator Charles Bolden told me.
- Yes but: For a smooth transition between ISS and these private stations, companies will need to put them in orbit before the space station ends, an aggressive timeline may not be met.
The bottom line: Geopolitics are changing in space as the ISS ceases to function and nations are starting to look to the Moon as a place to cooperate.