The International Space Station is used every day by astronauts from official space agencies of countries around the world, including, but not limited to, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, but NASA has been tossing around the idea of leasing the International Space Station out to private companies in the future; at least when the International Space Station out-lives its current uses and we start moving astronauts to more important places for more permanent settlement, like on the Moon and on Mars.
Image Credit: NASA
But could private use of the International Space Station happen much sooner? And more importantly, could private companies eventually build their own space stations to work alongside the International Space Station? It certainly seems so… especially since private companies appear to be expressing more interest than originally thought.
It would seem that one company, Texas-based Axiom Space, could already be in development of a commercial international space station that would be accessible to private companies, as well as smaller nations and private entities, and bits and pieces to start building it could launch no later than 2020. This just happens to coincide with a date when NASA intends to eventually ‘abandon’ the International Space Station and/or lease it out to third-party companies, which they estimate will be sometime within the next decade or so.
Currently, funding for the International Space Station will continue until 2024, but a de-orbiting process could occur as soon as 2028 unless someone else decides to start maintaining it. Fortunately, the latter is more likely, as it seems commercial entities see value in outer space.
Citing a report from Space.com, a commercial international space station would make space even more accessible to private companies and individuals, reducing reliance on the already busy space agencies who have important jobs to do, besides pleasing third parties. The goal of the new commercial space station is to make space more of a potential resource for space research, manufacturing, and technology development, rather than simply a giant science experiment.
As we come to grips with the fact that we might one day become an interplanetary species, having more than just a few brilliant minds in space at one time can seriously advance our understanding of space and its effects on human health, as well as help us to learn to cope better with space conditons.
Interestingly, this is exactly what a recent NASA mission involving the use of two identical twins was all about, as it allowed us to learn more about how long stays in space affect the human body. Remember NASA astronaut Scott Kelly? – He was participating in this year-long space experiment, along with his Earth-bound idental twin brother, so that NASA would be able to study how space affected the human body over long periods of time.
More importantly, Axiom has a vision to make space travel more accessible so that it can help with research and manufacturing that can better mankind as a species overall.
Axiom Space is reportedly already in talks with over a dozen different countries, as well as various commercial entities, who would be very interested in taking to space. It offers opportunities to expand businesses, improve the knowledge of mankind, and help to propel our footprint in our own Solar System.
Given all the talks that have taken place already, it would seem that there is quite a bit of demand to get into space, and should Axiom develop its own commercial international space station that could be rented out to other entities, there could be a large profit to be made.
Axiom might actually utilize some parts of the International Space Station some day when it’s no longer in use to realize its dreams, but things are honestly still in the air at this point in time. It’s entirely possible that they could opt to start from scratch, but right now it's looking like Axiom might be interested in sending a specialized module to the International Space Station when we get closer to its termination so that parts can be salvaged for the construction of something new.
You can listen to Axiom CEO Michael Suffrendini as he talks about why a commerciall-accessible space station is important in the recent Bloomberg interview below:
Space, which has long been thought to be restricted to government research and agencies, is becoming more commercialized with each passing year. If you remember, NASA used to fund their own launches and build their own equipment (I.E. the space shuttle), but now relies on third-party commercial companies like Boeing and SpaceX to make launches into space.
The increased commercial interest in low-orbit Earth activities could be a very good thing for mankind. Perhaps eventually we’ll get to the point where ordinary citizens can visit space on a frequent basis, rather than just government or high-ranking personnel. Space tourism might be just around the corner if we play our cards right.