Now, few of my own illustrations to show the future of the ISS! With the success of the Commercial Cargo program, bringing SpaceX’s Dragon and Orbital’s Cygnus spacecraft to the station, the Commercial Crew program is set to bring the US back to manned spaceflight to the ISS. To this end, in 2015, the station was reconfigured to allow for 2 berthed cargo vehicles, while converting the 2 Space Shuttle PMAs (Pressurized Mating Adapter) to NASA Docking Standard ports with support for autonomous docking.
With SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s CST-100 spacecraft servicing the station, station crew capacity will be extended to 7. The International Space Station has proven to be an excellent place to validate and test new spacecraft, serving as the testbed for ATV, HTV, Dragon and Cygnus while looking to do the same for CST-100 and Crew Dragon in 2017.
Meanwhile, the orbiting outpost will play a role in validating new spaceflight technology. In 2015, the Bigelow Aerospace BEAM (Bigelow Expandable Activity Module) will be flown to the station. This technology, based on the cancelled NASA Transhab, will be validated by astronauts on-orbit. Using expandable modules, future space stations can be built for a fraction of the cost of ISS while gaining large amounts of living space. Other experiments on orbit include micro satellite servicing and deployment and the testing of small reentry vehicles from a proposed small airlock.
As the station’s future has now been all but completely extended to 2024 (awaiting Japanese and European approval), and the possibility of use until 2028, the question arises of what will succeed it after the station’s lifetime is complete and it is de-orbited. Current NASA dialog suggests a similar arrangement to the commercial programs whereby NASA would purchase space on a commercial space station as an “anchor client” while purchasing commercial rides to reach them.