While there has been progress in U.S. efforts to promote the station's commercial potential (AW&ST July 22, p. 28), most of NASA's work on the ISS to date has been aimed at developing the hardware it will need for deep-space exploration. Agency presentations at the utilization conference included descriptions of work on the station environmental control and life-support system (Eclss), which is both a critical function today and a testbed for the Eclss that will be needed for missions to Mars; the Space Communications and Navigation Testbed, which gives communications engineers a way to evaluate software-configurable radios, and the Robotic Refueling Mission that uses Dextre to simulate satellite servicing (see p. 38).
Also presenting was Samuel Ting, the Nobel laureate heading up the international team using the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) on the ISS (photo) for a particle-physics survey of the heavens that may produce new discoveries about the Big Bang and the distribution of anti-matter in the Universe. Particle physics is a statistical game, Ting says, and the longer AMS can operate, the better its data will be. “There is nothing you can do but wait,” he says.
Funding for the ISS is fairly solid through 2020, and the structure can probably last another eight years after that. Speaker after speaker at the Denver conference emphasized the importance of using the station while it is there to use.
“We won't have anything this capable in orbit, probably for 100 years,” says Julie Robinson, NASA's ISS program scientist.