Beyond ISS: America must lead in LEO, cislunar and beyond | Science

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As the International Space Station (ISS) nears the end of its service life and the United States commercial space industry continues to push past old technological boundaries, America needs new orbital destinations to remain the world’s leader in space.

Low-Earth orbit, or LEO, is of tremendous strategic significance. It is not only where a fast-growing number of satellites operate, but it is also where humans have lived and worked continuously on the ISS since 2000. And while the ISS is a testament to the ingenuity of humanity and the possibilities found within peaceful international cooperation, the station cannot be sustained indefinitely.

The cislunar space beyond traditional Earth orbits is rapidly gaining in strategic importance. This region, which includes lunar, lunar transfer and Lagrange orbits, is already an arena for international space competition. Returning to the moon comes with the potential commercial benefits of untapped mineral resources, water to facilitate human presence on the surface and fuel to support missions to Mars and beyond.

By the end of this decade, the U.S. and its allies could face a gap in American presence in LEO…


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