Friday, January 29, 2016

The Case for an International Space Agency

Acronym for a proposed International Astronomy and Space Organization

What if there were a space agency that made it affordable for even the poorest nations on the globe to participate in a vigorous and inspirational international space program. Such a space organization could also allow up to eight citizens from each member nation to participate as astronauts in an international astronaut corp. Funds from this international space agency  could also be used to  contribute towards the development and deployment of  space telescopes and space probes primarily being funded and developed by other space organizations.

I'll call this proposed global space agency the: 


NASA's current funding level is over $19 billion a year (less than 0.5% of annual US Federal expenditures). Russia spends about $5.6 billion a year on its space efforts. But  I propose a membership fee for each nation participating   in the  IASO of only $50 million per year. Such a low annual membership fee for an international space program would make it affordable for even the poorest nations on Earth to participate. The small annual fee also wouldn't be large enough to significantly hurt funding levels for national space programs being financed by some of the wealthier member countries.  

But the purpose of the IASO would not be to replace existing national space programs. Instead, the IASO would utilize the existing resources and infrastructure of the various government space agencies and private commercial space companies. Doing so would  increase demand for the products and services of private aerospace companies while minimizing IASO cost for operating their space program.  This could also allow IASO astronauts from all participating nations to quickly become part of a vigorous pioneering space program. 

Future Boeing Starliner (CST-100) Commercial Crew spacecraft (Credit: Boeing Aerospace)
The countries most likely to want to participate in the IASO would be those nations that are already operating manned and unmanned space programs. That's because the products and services that the IASO is most likely to utilize will come from commercial vendors used to support the current national space programs.  The United States, of course, not only has a civilian government space program (NASA) put also has several private space companies (ULA, Space X, Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, Orbital ATK, Sierra Nevada, Bigelow Aerospace, Blue Origin, etc.) with various levels of aerospace capabilities that could be utilized by the IASO for their space efforts.  And, of course, Europe and Russia and nations like China, India, and Japan could also provide extensive space services for IASO efforts.

The ISS (International Space Station) program currently has the participation of five space agencies and 26 nations. These countries could serve as the core nations for the IASO. Since each participating nation will have equal status and votes in the IASO, including other nations with existing space launch capability such as  China, India, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Israel, South Korea and Iran could add some voting balance to an initially heavily European dominated organization.

But there are other nations with emerging space programs that could gradually be added to the IASO over the years such as:  Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, South Africa, Nigeria, Taiwan, Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. Of course, there would probably be more than a dozen other European nations that enjoy the status and excitement of  joining such an international space organization. Its also not difficult to imagine that economically advanced countries like  Australia and New Zealand might also want to join such an affordable space program.

In principal, the IASO could  add two member nations every year in order to maintain institutional stability. This could  engendering excitement each year for the pair of nations lucky enough to be allowed to join the international organization that particular year.

Philosophically, I believe that at least 60% of the IASO budget should be spent on its astronaut corp. And each member nation should be allowed to have up to four adult men and four adult women in the IASO astronaut program. After two years of membership, the IASO should guarantee a member nation  that  at least one of their national astronauts  will  be deployed into space every year.

Its not difficult  to imagine an IASO consisting of at least 40 permanent members quite early in its formation. At $50 million per member, such an international space agency could have  a  $2 billion annual budget with at least  $1.2 billion a year specifically dedicated to human spaceflight related activities. 

Artist rendition of future Bigelow Aerospace space hab (BA-330)(Credit: Wikipedia)
Initially, crewed IASO astronaut missions to LEO could simply require purchasing tickets to ride aboard private Commercial Crew vehicles to private commercial space stations. Bigelow Aerospace plans to charge between $26 million to $37 million for a 10 to 60 day stay aboard one of its BA-330 space habitats. But a 40 member IASO would be able spend a couple a hundred million a year to purchase its own space habitat perhaps from Bigelow, or Boeing (SLS propellant tank derived habitat), or from Russia's  RSC Energia. At least 30% of the IASO budget could also be utilized to purchase and  deploy habitats at LEO, the Earth-Moon Lagrange points, the surface of the Moon, Mars orbit, the surface of Mars, and beyond through private aerospace companies. 

A notional  16 day IASO  missions to an IASO owned LEO habitat would give IASO astronauts launch and landing experience aboard a space craft with at least 14 days of experience inside of a microgravity habitat, plus at least one or more Flexcraft and pressure suit excursions outside of the habitat modules. Such spaceflight experience might even make some IASO astronauts desirable to participate in future beyond LEO missions conducted by other major space agencies such as NASA and ESA.

Orion MPCV for deep space missions (Credit: Wikipedia)
The IASO could take part in  beyond LEO missions conducted by NASA or ESA or other major   space agencies by offering to contribute $150 million for every IASO astronaut allowed to participate in the mission. NASA currently plans to send four astronauts on beyond LEO missions aboard a spacecraft (the Orion) that could accommodate six astronauts. If two IASO astronauts were allowed to join the mission then NASA could cut the cost of the crewed mission by $300 million. A pair of  IASO astronauts, on the other hand, would be able to take part in a beyond LEO mission  for just $300 million.

Once the age of water and propellant depots arrive, commercial companies could provide IASO astronauts with frequent and affordable access to habitats on the surface of the Moon and perhaps even Mars. Eventually, the IASO could simply purchase their own habitats from private companies on the lunar and martian surface.
The IASO could eventually purchase a pair of regolith wall shielded lunar habitats from private aerospace companies which could give IASO astronauts the ability to remain on the lunar surface for months or for years.

Other IASO funding could be  contributed to international organizations involved in locating potentially dangerous asteroids and comets that could someday imperil the Earth and towards the development and deployment of new types of space telescopes and exploratory probes.

So basically, the IASO  could help other existing space agencies to finance their manned and unmanned missions while also utilizing the services and infrastructure of private space companies to minimize the cost of their own space program.  And this could allow a lot more nations, and the astronauts of those nations,  to participate in the exploration and pioneering of the Moon and Mars and the rest of the New Frontier!

Marcel F. Williams

Links and References

International Space Station

Congress Set to Give NASA $19 Billion Budget in 2016

List of Government Space Agencies

Commercial Crew Development

Orion Spacecraft

Utilizing the SLS to Build a Cis-Lunar Highway

Reusable Hoppers and Orbiters for Rapid Lunar Transportation and Exploration



Anonymous said...

Haha every nation should pay 50 mill on useless space program instead of food and stuff. I don't think you understand just how poor (and small) some countries are. And they should pay private companies from wealthy nations to launch their astronauts to space? 40 nations at the beginning? And they should all pay the same? Your idea is cute but I hope you're not older than like 10.

Marcel F. Williams said...

The average population of a country is about 35 million people. So $50 million a year couldn't even support that population for day.

Now I know why you're anonymous:-)


Trippy Trilby said...

I love this plan. I gotta say, I'm not sure a budget of just 2bn/yr would be enough to put 40 astronauts into orbit yearly, certainly not at the present, but I do love the idea of distributing the costs and the rewards of human spaceflight to as many nations as possible.

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