Why do we need a Space Station?

Justification, Functions and Goals

A project like our space station in 2020, or the current International Space Station (ISS), costs a lot of money. Projects such as these have traditionally been paid for almost entirely by governments. There are various reasons for this. During the era of the superpower rivalries, there were military reasons for spending on space research that were seldom questioned or debated, but that time is over. Nowadays, scientific discoveries and the subsequent technological advances are the primary justifications for the space programmes. Additionally, it has to be recognised that these programmes employ a lot of people in well paid jobs, often in areas where there is a shortage of equivalent employment in other industries.

Private investment in space research has been rare in the past. The amounts of money required are simply too large and the length of time before any likely return is available, are not compatible with the way private industry and commerce has to work. Space is risky, too. There is a good chance a (very expensive) mission will fail and all the investment will be lost. Governments will take the risk, but private investors will not. The other thing that private investors asked was: How could space make money anyway? You might find out a lot, but you couldn't sell it.

That is changing now. Commercial satellites are being launched almost every day. They are used for telecommunication, broadcast, internet transmission and Earth observation. These can and do make money, and lots of it.

But what about space stations?

The ISS is extremely expensive, and the USA, even though it leads the project, wants to share the costs with other countries. So far the following have joined the Project:

Europe (ESA)

The ISS is a third generation space station. Although it will carry out research in many areas of science, it will not be carrying out primary research into how to live in space. We know a lot about that already. Instead the ISS is a development space station: one that will perfect and improve on previous hardware designs and consolidate our knowledge. It will, however, be undertaking fundamental research in other science disciplines and the station is likely to be available for commercial and industrial corporations who want to hire its facilities for research and manufacture.

The following is a list of some of the likely and potential functions of the ISS. Not all these are necessarily "officially" stated by the participating space agencies. The list is by no means complete. Can you think of any others?

Earth Observation - including

  • weather forecasting
  • agricultural development and monitoring
  • precision farming
  • oceanography
  • geology and mineral prospecting
  • environment monitoring and pollution control
  • ozone layer monitoring

Industrial Science and Technology Development - including

  • metallurgy
  • robotics
  • materials science
  • thin-film electronics

Astrophysics and Astronomy - including

  • deep space astronomy - observation of the planets and stars
  • solar observation
  • local space environment monitoring - solar wind, Van Allen Belts
  • lunar observation

Bio-medical Research and Development - including

  • development of new drugs
  • behaviour of animals and people in space
  • physiological monitoring of people
  • development of new treatments
  • development of new medical equipment and processes

The first port-of-call from Earth - as a space station in its true sense

  • Repair & Maintenance of spacecraft and satellites
  • Deployment of new spacecraft and satellites
  • Construction base for large spacecraft and new space stations
  • Launch and control centre for deepspace manned missions - return to the Moon, on to Mars
  • Relay station for deepspace communication

With involvement of different countries in the Programme, the ISS is living up to the ideals of the UN Outer Space Treaty. It is being used for peaceful purposes. Knowledge is being shared, products developed and mankind, as a whole should benefit.

Our Space Station in 2020 is seen as following in the traditions being established by the ISS. It will be bigger, more comfortable and probably have better facilities, but it will basically be the same in function.



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