While NASA’s budget, at approximately $17.5 billion, is about as large as the budget for Russia, France, the European Space Agency, and Japan combined, it’s not enough for two private firms: Boeing and SpaceX. Both companies have stated that they expect to expand their business to other companies looking for affordable spacecraft to ferry people and cargo into the great beyond.
Within the next few years, both companies will be responsible for providing manned flights to the International Space Station (ISS), which is expected to bring in a massive amount of revenue. The problem lies in the fact that the ISS is only definitely expected to operate until 2024 and NASA has provided nearly half of SpaceX’s total funding of one billion through long term progress payments.
Yet not every country involved in the ISS has fully agreed to fund the project until 2024. Russia, with the political situation in Ukraine, is in a particularly tumultuous situation as ROSCOMOS is preparing to set up its own separate space station after its contract with the ISS.
“Our business may be based on a NASA flight for crew, but it’s all about fostering a market for commercial passengers,” said Pete McGrath, who heads Boeing’s Space Exploration Division as head director. “There is a finite date on station, so fostering a market that can extend beyond that and get the benefits of microgravity research is important.”
In short, after the ISS, what’s next? Unless the two companies can find contracts with other space programs or private companies, long-term funding may become a difficult issue as prospective clients dry up.
One company to look for, Space Adventures, has already successfully flown seven space tourists. They have used Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft, the very vessel that, until recently, ferried astronauts to the ISS.
If SpaceX and Boeing can keep prices down, space flight may be able to shift to have an increasingly larger commercial aspect. Rather than launching for in place space programs, the two companies could serve as a launch off point for countries without a sound space agency, as well as for pharmaceutical companies, and the odd wealthy tourist.
Bigelow Aerospace, who constructs space station modules rather than aircraft, and NASA, will be hosting an event later this week to showcase the former companies new experiment module.