The documents show an administration that is eager to put a new emphasis on human space exploration, but unwilling to spend enough to dramatically speed NASA’s long-term—and long-delayed—plans to return Americans to space without leveraging growing private investment.
President Donald Trump’s 2019 budget request envisions NASA working closely with the private sector on every level, from outsourcing ground-to-space communications to landing on the moon, while focusing its own efforts on technology to take people into deep space. The budget would increase NASA’s spending by $375 million, to just under $20 billion annually.
The White House expects to stop spending on the International Space Station within seven years, and plans to create a new $150 million program to prepare private companies to take over operations on the ISS, or to replace it with their own space habitats. Bigelow Aerospace, which has a habitat hosted on the ISS and a dubious extraterrestrial research contract to boot, and Nanoracks, which works with NASA to launch satellites from ISS and with Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin to fly research payloads, have called for such programs for years.
Whether sufficient private demand for human time in space exists to finance these operations remains an open question. While the national lab onboard ISS remains underutilized, some companies (like Bezos, or the founders of Made in Space) think orbital manufacturing has a future, and others think space tourism or resource extraction could be lucrative.