Who owns the ISS?

Reading this article:

The article indicates that Russia controls the ISS because they are the only country that flies there, and if they cut off American access they would be left as the de facto owners.

But who legitimately “owns” the ISS? I thought the entire point of it being “International” is that lots of countries have contributed to the construction and should have just as much right to be there are the Russians. And if one of Russia’s rivals returned to the manned spaceflight game, could Russia legitimately claim ownership and deny them access (possibly even using violence)?

TheISS Treaty.

Given that SpaceX has resupplied the station, I would contest the assertion that Russia is the only country that can fly the the ISS.

Geez, that article is poorly written. Here’s a better explanation of what the Russians actually said. Basically, they are saying they aren’t going to keep flying to the ISS after 2020, but that they “will not place any impediments for work on the ISS”.

Now, is this announcement politically motivated? Almost certainly. But it’s not like Russia is saying that they’ll assume control of the ISS; they’re saying “we’re done with it, but you’re welcome to keep using it if you can get yourselves up there.”

Which is effectively what the US said, too, when we retired the Shuttles. The only difference is that when we did it, there was still another country who was traveling there, who took us up on the offer of “you’re welcome to keep using it”.

So what’s to keep Richard Branson from developing a ship and going up there and squatting? It’s got to be the ultimate fixer upper mansion with a great view. Couldn’t Britain claim that Sir Richard was just going up there to keep the place tidy?

They haven’t resupplied it with people, though. Currently Russia is the only entity that can do that. SpaceX is working in that direction, though.

Basically the fact that SpaceShip2 is subobital while ISS orbits about 400 km above sea level.

There’s no way NASA can spin-up something man-rated in 6 years, this pretty much makes SpaceX the defacto only choice.

That or abandoning the station completely.

Is it possible to take a decommissioned space shuttle, slap a new coat of paint on it, and fire it up? Or have they all been rendered permanently inoperable?

Which doesn’t really explain much other than that the individual partners have legal jurisdiction over the modules they’ve provided, and (while not clearly stated, the crew has common access to all modules and their functionality regardless of nationality) but the commitments to maintain or retire the elements are unclear. This is problematic if a major player–like Russia or the United States, which owns operationally critical modules which provide environment control, life support, communications, propulsion, et cetera–then the station as a system may no longer be fully functional or inhabitable, thus rendering it useless (or rather, more useless than it already is). Think of the ISS as like being part of a coop housing arrangement in which everybody has do certain chores for which they only have the critical skills or tools. If one party walks away, the dishes don’t get washed, the linens don’t get laundered, or the trash doesn’t get taken out.

This is further complicated by the fact that the US purchased at least two of the initial modules from Russia as part of a cost-sharing agreement and (presumably) maintains nominal ownership. However, there is no guarantee in place ensuring that Russia provide transportation, only an easement to access the station, for which the US currently has no domestic capability. Sucks to be us that we can’t play with our own toys, but frankly, that isn’t anyone else’s problem.

SpaceX can deliver cargo to the ISS. It is not certified to provide orbit raising or transport personnel, nor has SpaceX yet demonstrated a commercial crew capability (though they are working toward this capability and have performed on several significant milestones). They will probably not be certified to carry NASA personnel to the ISS in the next three years even if they had a working system to start certification today. NASA is currently focusing a lot of effort on the SLS and plans for a 2017 or 2018 initial operational capability, but things are not going well there, either.

The Spaceship Company (TSG), the wholly-owned subsidiary of Virgin Galactic, is building the SpaceShipTwo air-launched hybrid rocket engine-powered vehicles for suborbital launch (just barely exceeding the Karman line at ~100 km AMSL) and the LauncherOne for smallsat delivery to LEO, both of which are lofted by the WhiteNightTwo carrier aircraft. Neither of these systems is remotely capable of intercepting or docking with the ISS, much less delivering payload or passengers. The ISS would also make a shitty “fixer-uper”; the costs of maintaining the station are exhorbiant, and because various modules were produced by a number of different nations with limited coordination getting future support for maintenance and refurbishment may be very difficult. The station itself is built with 'Eighties-era technology, and it would likely be cheaper to develop a new station using inflatable modular sections for habitats akin to the TransHab or Bigelow EAM.

Frankly, losing access to the ISS may be a blessing in disguise, especially given the very modest amount of useful scientific research or technology development currently coming from ISS operations. A considerable amount of NASA budget is dedicated to supporting ISS operations, transportation from and to, and of course getting the SLS off in sufficient time for crew transportation despite some of the fundamental problems that ill-concieved program is having getting existing hardware qualified to the new configuration with minimal contractor support. Taking the ISS out of the picture, along with the immediate emphasis on crewed transportation, would allow for more long-term planning based upon developing a sustainable and evolutionary development of technologies for both crewed and uncrewed capability.

This isn’t remotely feasible for a vast number of reasons, starting with the fact that the launch facilities for the STS (“Shuttle”) have already been modified to suport the SLS.


They’re all Museum pieces now, with all the interesting bits disconnected. The old Pad 39 complex is being modified for use by SpaceX’s rockets, so we’d have to re-re-build the launch system as well.

ETA: Ninja’d!

Sucks to be us indeed. Next thing you know it will be illegal for an American to to catch a cab in Kazakhstan. (Hey, nice song title!)

Which is why I stated developed a ship. My point being could a multi billionaire decide to squat there claiming it was abandoned property? Not that it makes sense to do. how about salvaging other space objects that may be deemed useless and not worth the effort by some. Isn’t that what salvage comoanies do? Make a profit where other people don’t see one.

According to various reports recently, Putin (well, actually one of his deputy ministers) suggested, in light of the tension over Ukraine, that the United States should get to the space station via trampoline.

Example: ‘Trampolines’ to space? Where Ukraine crisis leaves a Russia-dependent US, Pete Spotts, Christian Science Monitor, April 30, 2014:

From the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs

Of course, it’s not trespassing if the property owner gives you permission. I expect that if some eccentric billionaire wanted to take over the ISS, and had demonstrated the technical means to do so, that the relevant governments would be happy to let him, provided that he maintained some pretext of doing science there.

No argument regarding the certification, but Dragon could transport crew to the ISS “today” if they wanted. The capsule has basic environmental systems and is certified to dock with the ISS and share its internal environment. It is probably about as safe as the Shuttle was, despite its current lack of a launch escape system. It has good thermal protection, chutes, and most of what you’d want in a crew transport.

SpaceX claims that they will reveal a flight model of the Dragon v2 later this month that is fully crew capable. It’ll have much more powerful thrusters that can act both as a launch escape and powered landing system, not to mention enhanced environmental systems, etc…

Of course this says nothing about how long it’ll take them to actually achieve NASA certification, but it’ll be interesting to see what they reveal at any rate.

Frankly is SpaceX going to be any more successful than MirCorp was?

SpaceX has a working factory that builds rockets that have already flown to the ISS. MirCorp never built anything; they just funded various stunt missions, like sending a private crew to Mir, or Dennis Tito to the ISS. They’re nothing alike.

Unless they run out of money, SpaceX will at the least remain a successful medium-lift commercial launching firm. But the odds seem very good that they will soon put people into orbit, successfully reuse parts of their rocket, and develop a heavy-lift version of their rocket. More speculative are their super-heavy rocket and Mars plans.