For years, the International Space Station (ISS) has been in low earth orbit at 250 miles above the planet. It is likely that after 2024, funding may discontinue, giving room for other ways of exploring space.
Phil McAlister from NASA said that space destinations might transfer from government projects such as the ISS to the private sector. NASA will turn the focus to deep space exploration while establishing partnerships with entrepreneurs.
Some of the goals for the next few decades include building moon bases and missions to Mars, which can be accomplished after funding for the ISS has stopped. At the same time, the private sector can establish new space stations in low earth orbit so that new space technology can be tested.
Michael Suffredini from Axiom Space shared that his company is planning to build a new station after the ISS retires. Axiom will be attaching their crew module to an ISS docking port by 2024 and expand.
The company also has plans for at least two more modules. One will be a laboratory and manufacturing site while the second will be a panoramic observatory.
The ISS is expected to retire after 2028. When operations cease, Axiom's modules will detach from the ISS to become the first commercial free-flying space station.
For now, Axiom's modules have a similar design to the ISS with a cylindrical structure. They hope to develop new module designs, such as inflatable structures, that would be much larger than the current modules built by Thales Alenia Space who build nearly 50% of the ISS modules.
Axiom's stations will also be the first station to receive tourists. But before that, Space X and NASA will be working alongside director Doug Liman and Tom Cruise and two other private astronauts will be shooting a movie at the ISS by 2021.
Future Commercial Space Stations
Way back in 1982, James Beggs from NASA believed that a space station is "an essential piece of our long-range plan to reap the full commercial and scientific benefits of space."
However, it took a decade and over 30 missions to complete the ISS while many entrepreneurs had dreams of opening space stations as tourist destinations since the 1960s, such as Hilton Hotels and Budget Suite Hotels.
McAlister said that two decades ago, there was still very little "experience living and working in microgravity." There was also low economic activity in low earth orbit and it was difficult to predict which markets would exist and be profitable.
Now, with all the available data from years of research in the ISS, companies such as Axiom can fulfill commercial space exploration in low earth orbit. ISS will soon become a stepping stone for the future of privately-owned space stations.
Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin also intends to build the space economy and have millions of people live and work in low earth orbit. China has also launched the space stations Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2 to test equipment used to build a larger station in the next few years.
Suffredini said, "The evolution from exploration to settling is what has to happen for humanity to take the next great step and permanently live off the planet. That's the long-term vision of what we're doing."
Check out more news and information on the International Space Station on Science Times.