Space News reports that NASA officials want a decision on extending ISS operations soon:
NASA space station managers hope to receive word this year on whether the orbiting outpost’s mission will be stretched beyond 2020 because an extension would require supporting investments starting as soon as 2015, a senior agency official said.
“We would like to get a policy decision this year,” Sam Scimemi, international space station (ISS) program director at NASA headquarters, told members of the NASA Advisory Council’s Human Exploration and Operations Committee. “In other words, during the  budget process.”
If the decision is made this year, it could be factored into NASA’s 2015 budget request, which will be submitted to Congress as early as February.
“Within a couple of years, we have to start making contract decisions about what to buy, what not to buy,” Scimemi said. “We’re having discussions now [within NASA].”
Asked about the timing of such a decision during the NewSpace Conference three weeks ago, outgoing Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said she felt NASA had a bit more time.
“We have in the U.S. sort of a five-year budget time frame, and so we were running up against that when we extended it from 15,” Garver told reporters. “So, if you look at when you would have to start spending money, you look five years out. So, we’re preparing a 15 year budget now. That isn’t really a budget issue probably until 16.”
Garver was also asked about the difficulty of getting NASA’s European, Japanese and Canadian partners to commit to another eight years of operating an aging space station. There have been rumblings, especially from Russia, of wanting to move on to other projects.
“As I talked about, it is something that we all want to work toward, but we have to do it in a way that really does reduce those costs and increases its meaning and capabilities. So, our partners have the same issues that we do, that these are tax dollars and when the public is paying for this, their government leadership wants to see a return.
“So, we worked together a couple of years ago to get it extended from 15 to 2020, that was easier with some of the partners than others, some are just getting there. And so, really, moving them another eight years now when it seems pretty far away and it is, in many of their cases, a pretty high share of what their government-funded space programs do, is a stretch. I think if we can reduce the costs, that will allow more people to see it as a valuable thing to do, and we are working toward that together….
“Let me just mention on the space station issue, and we talked about not only in the U.S. but in other countries, folks want to invest in space programs and help their own industry and so forth. And so, while space station we’re utilizing now, a lot of countries have similar to us more interest in building something new because that’s what sort of returns the benefit. I was talking in Japan, in particular, we all thought in the beginning they were going to really utilize space station and we were concerned they would be the ones developing all the commercial flights. People want to do, sort of, the next thing, and that’s a natural part of these programs.”
De-orbiting station would also free up money for NASA to conduct deep space operations with Orion and the Space Launch System.