COLORADO SPRINGS (Colo.) NASA Administrator Bill Nelson stated today at the 36th Space Symposium that NASA believes commercial space stations will orbit Earth after the International Space Station retires.
The 2011 completion of the space station could mean that it will be retired as early as 2024. Nelson said today that the orbiting laboratory will last until 2030, and NASA plans to replace it with commercial labs.
"We expect the space station to be expanded as a government project up to 2030. Nelson spoke alongside other top space leaders around the globe during a "Heads of Agency Panel".
Related: The International Space Station won't last forever. Here's how it will eventually be destroyed by fire.
While NASA is now looking for commercial space stations that can take over the International Space Station as it nears its end, China has already started building its own station. China's move is competitive, not collaborative, since NASA cannot engage in bilateral activities.
Nelson stated that "Unfortunately, we're entering a space race against China." "I am speaking for the United States. China should be considered a partner. As a military enemy, I would like China to be a partner with the United States. Russia did that. That is what I would love to do. China is extremely secretive and transparency is a part of the civilian satellite program.
Nelson pointed out Russia's long-standing collaboration with NASA in space, despite continuing political divisions back home. There have been tensions and issues between the countries in space. Most recently, the space station was thrown into chaos by Russia's Nauka module. It accidentally fired its thrusters after docking.
Questions have been raised about NASA's relationship with Roscosmos, Russia's space agency Roscosmos, due to the Nauka situation. The fact that Russia, China and China collaborate on a lunar base is complicating matters.
Nelson, however, is optimistic about NASA's partnership relationship with Russia.
Nelson stated that the pair were "enemies even during the Cold War" but could come together to find a common ground in civilian space.
Chelsea Gohd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter @Spacedotcom