The international space station will have a successor, by Stefan Barensky

Thomas Pesquet has returned from the International Space Station (ISS) and there is little chance that he will ever return there. It’s not that he won’t fly again, a mission around the Moon was even proposed to the future Gateway space station, built in cooperation between the United States, Europe, Japan and Canada, but the ISS itself will probably not be available when it arrives. . is coming back. The European Space Agency (ESA) must select a new batch of astronauts next year, among whom we hope to have another Frenchman, or better yet, a Frenchman. These newcomers should have priority in ISS missions until their retirement. This is expected by the end of the decade, or even earlier if it is damaged by debris generated during antisatellite tests conducted by irresponsible powers.

The end of the ISS does not mean the end of low-orbit operations for the Americans, who are hard to imagine leaving the earth in the hands of the Chinese station. Last April, the United States Space Agency (NASA) asked the industry to make proposals for commercial stations in which the permanent presence of two astronauts and the performance of at least 200 experiments a year could be ensured. After having outsourced the supply of the ISS, with the commercial freighters Dragon, Cygnus and soon Dream Chaser, then the relief of the astronauts, with the private Crew Dragon capsules and soon Starliner, NASA intends to take the last step by outsourcing the station. itself, of which it would cease to be a priority customer.

A first step was taken in 2020 by commissioning Axiom Space to develop and operate new commercial modules on the ISS. The first are under construction in Turin, Italy, and will join the station in 2024. Ultimately, they will constitute an autonomous unit that will separate from the aging ISS to become the first private space station. She will not be the only one.

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At the last International Astronautical Congress in Dubai, several manufacturers have just made their response known to NASA. Lockheed Martin, along with Nanoracks, a company that already markets a transportation solution for the ISS, will offer a Starlab inflatable mini-gym in 2027. Jeff Bezos’s company Blue Origin is thinking much bigger.

The dream of space colonization

The Amazon boss, recently unsuccessful in his lawsuit against NASA that gave SpaceX a monopoly of access to the Moon, does not dismantle his own vision of space. Unlike Elon Musk, he is convinced that the future of humanity is on Earth and that it is through the colonization of low orbit and the exploitation of extraterrestrial resources that we will be able to reduce the ecological pressure on our planet.

This colonization begins with the creation of an economic ecosystem and this is the goal of the Orbital Reef project (“orbital reef”). It is not a question here of referring to the pitfalls to come, but to the rich coral ecosystems based on the symbiosis of multiple organisms. Starting in 2025, using its giant New Glenn launcher, Blue Origin proposes to set up a new station, made up of modules much larger than those of the current station (7 meters in diameter instead of 4.5 meters) equipped with multiple docking springs. to host user modules. . Boeing and Sierra Space have given up their own offers to come and graft their modules into this new station. At Blue Origin, we present the concept as a condominium, comparable to an urbanization or a marina, “open to all and all nations” … With the exception, perhaps, of China.

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However, this station will not be subject to an intergovernmental agreement like the ISS and intellectual property problems are expected to be difficult to solve. Private companies will provide service and maintenance to these stations where international experimenters (national agencies, universities or industrialists) and wealthy space tourists will meet. These operators are already offering a new career to former NASA astronauts. They may do the same for ESA veterans when they retire from active duty. Therefore, Thomas Pesquet’s career could one day take a new turn in the private sector.

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Frédéric Filloux is a columnist for L'Express and editor of Monday Note.Frédéric Filloux

Head in the stars

Stefan barenskyStefan barensky


Rama Yade, Vice President of the Radical Party (PR), March 10, 2012.By Sylvain Fort



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