The Biden administration has formally stated its support for extending the International Space Station’s operations until the close of the decade, an official statement that comes as no surprise and does not address how to get all of the station’s partners, particularly Russia, to consent on the station’s future.
The White House decided to prolong the ISS’s operations through 2030, according to a statement released on NASA’s ISS blog on December 31. The Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act of 2015, which was last changed in 2015, established its U.S. policy to operate the station until at least 2024.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson stated in a statement, “I’m glad that the Administration of Biden-Harris has agreed to continue station operations beyond 2030.” “The United States’ continued involvement on the ISS (International Space Station) will boost competitiveness and innovation, as well as progress the research and technology needed to send the first-ever person of color and first-ever woman to the moon as part of NASA’s Artemis program, and prepare the ground for the arrival of the first humans to reach Mars.”
While the announcement’s format and timing — a blog post instead of a formal press release on New Year’s Eve — were unexpected, the decision to broaden the ISS’s existence was not. NASA had stated that its long-term goal for the station was to keep it operational until the end of the decade, allowing ample time for the commercial stations to launch in the late 2020s and a seamless transition from the ISS to other facilities.
Several attempts have been made in recent years to legally prolong federal law’s authorization of ISS activities from the year 2024 to the year 2028 or the year 2030. Nelson led an effort to approve a commercial space policy legislation with such extension during his last days in the Senate in the year 2018. In December 2018, the bill received unanimous Senate approval, but it fell short of the two-thirds majority required to approve the House through a legislative mechanism termed as suspension of the rules.
The White House’s decision isn’t enough to keep the ISS operational until the close of the decade. “To allow continuation of the pioneering science being undertaken in this distinctive orbiting laboratory during the rest of this decade,” NASA said it would collaborate with the station’s partners – Canada, Europe, Japan, and Russia.
One partner has already expressed interest in continuing the ISS. “I appreciate this announcement and will submit a request to the Member States for the @esa to remain until 2030, as well,” tweeted Josef Aschbacher, the European Space Agency’s director-general, shortly after NASA’s announcement.
But maintaining Russia in the ISS cooperation will be a tougher problem. Given concerns with the Russian part of the station and a desire to construct a Russian national space station, Russian authorities have expressed worries about the ISS’s technical capabilities to function beyond the end of the decade.