At the beginning of January 2016, CNES and DLR declared in two different statements one idea – ISS will not remain focal point for space agencies of France and Germany. Is it beginning of the end for ISS, after decision of the Roscosmos of reducing funds for International Space Station maintenance?
On 4 January 2016 Jean-Yves Le Gall (president of CNES) and one day later, on 5 January 2016 Pascale Ehrenfreund (president of DLR) announced simple thought: is ISS worth to spent money for next years? According to both presidents it is one of greatest projects ever created and superb scientific platform, but is it worth so much money? To remind, France (22.2%) and Germany (24.6%) are main supporters of ESA budget; their intention to support ISS after 2020 up to 2024 and agreement signed with NASA was giving solid bases of ISS existence until 2024. Now, if CNES and DLR are considering recalculating pros and cons of further participation in ISS, it seems more part of the game between NASA, ESA, Russia and other countries – Japan and Canada. It is worth to remind who has recently problems with ISS costs and who has not. On 3 June 2015 Canadian Industry Minister James Moore announced about Canadian support for ISS program until 2024. In the end of 2015 JAXA confirmed its participation in ISS until 2024 and is consequently supporting supply mission with own HTV spacecraft (ESA ATV supply spacecraft performed last flight on 2014 after only five missions). In 2015 according to Federal Space Program, Russia will cut budget for ISS maintenance (You can read more here) but still is interested in prolonged mission of ISS. Now, main shareholders of ESA are announcing, that eight years before end of agreement proposed by NASA and accepted by ESA on 2014 (and by rest of ISS partners), that they are forced to consider if ISS is really necessary for their space program – without any consultations with other countries participating in ISS – it seems quite strange. It is doubtfully if NASA, CSA, JAXA and Roscosmos agreed for additional four years of ISS mission (which is combined with additional necessary funds) without strong feeling that all ten countries from ESA supporting ISS program also would like to participate. Of course, Russia have plans of own space station, NASA is able to design and develop space station separately, eventually in cooperation with Japan and Canada; but France and Germany are not able to create space station separately or in partnership (in theory these countries could try to establish agreement with China to develop space station but will of CNSA, CNES or DLR to perform such partnership was not declared). Probably, whole statement of CNES and DLR is attempt of achieving better position in further negotiations with ISS partners. Now, when NASA is involved in Orion mission to ISS, Russia is basing own future space station on present and future modules utilized on ISS, Japan and Canada are still participating and have own projects relying on ISS, CNES and DLR are on privileged position for further budget negotiations. It could be also strong signal for rest of ESA countries both supporting and not budget of ISS to increase financial involvement – Germany, France and Italy are covering 89% ESA costs of ISS (Germany 41%, France 28% and Italy 20%). Rest of the countries are covering minor part of costs. Another explanation could be giving clear signal to rest of ESA members (especially to Great Britain which was not supporting ISS but recently, under special agreement sent Tim Peake to ISS), that International Space Station program needs their financial support, otherwise it could be halted.
It seems that International Space Station is another example of international venture where good will became uncommon – hopefully with enough for next eight years.