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Space station partners set 2028 as certification goal

Posted: March 11, 2010

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Top leaders of the International Space Station program gathered in Tokyo this week to discuss extending the life of the orbiting complex until at least 2020, and perhaps to 2028, officials said in a joint statement.

The International Space Station. Credit: NASA
The heads of agency meeting was the first since the White House approved plans to extend NASA's support the International Space Station from 2015 until 2020.

"The heads of agency reaffirmed the importance of full exploitation of the station's scientific, engineering, utilization, and education potential. They noted that there are no identified technical constraints to continuing ISS operations beyond the current planning horizon of 2015 to at least 2020, and that the partnership is currently working to certify on-orbit elements through 2028," the joint statement said.

Officials selected the 2028 certification objective because it would mark the 30th anniversary of the launch of the first Russian component of the outpost, according to NASA.

Michael Suffredini, NASA's space station program manager, said in January that engineers are already comfortable the complex will be structurally capable to continuing operations through at least 2020.

The space station program is jointly run by space agencies from the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada.

"The heads of agency expressed their strong mutual interest in continuing operations and utilization for as long as the benefits of ISS exploitation are demonstrated," the press release said.

That language closely matches statements previously made by senior officials from other space station partners, particularly Europe.

"They acknowledged that a U.S. fiscal year 2011 budget consistent with the U.S. administration's budget request would allow the United States to support the continuation of ISS operations and utilization activities to at least 2020," the statement said. "They emphasized their common intent to undertake the necessary procedures within their respective governments to reach consensus later this year on the continuation of the ISS to the next decade."

Detailed plans must be assembled soon to begin signing contracts for replacement parts by the end of 2010, Suffredini said in January. Engineers believe electrical batteries will be among the first items needing to be replaced.

"In looking ahead, the heads of agency discussed the importance of increasing ISS utilization and operational efficiency by all possible means, including finding and coordinating efficiencies across the ISS program and assuring the most effective use of essential capabilities, such as space transportation for crew and cargo, for the life of the program," the joint statement said.

Additional resupply flights will be required to deliver more cargo and living equipment to the space station. So far, the partners have only manifested missions through about 2015.

Russia provides Progress cargo freighters, Europe and Japan build the ATV and HTV spacecraft, and the United States has contracts with SpaceX and Orbital Sciences for commercial robotic logistics missions.