NASA has until July 2009 to produce a plan to extend the life of the International Space Station to 2020, according to new US legislation.
The ISS was to be used until 2016 and then deorbited, but the NASA Authorisation Act 2008, signed into law last week by President George Bush, updates the 2005 Authorisation Act requiring an ISS National Laboratory plan.
The new report must include a budget plan, extension-related hardware and maintenance issues, and cargo requirements. A key issue NASA must resolve is access to the ISS following the 2010 retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet, but increasing reliance on Russian Soyuz launches is problematic given rising geopolitical tensions.
NASA astronaut Michael Fincke, ISS Expedition 18 commander, is now aboard the station, which he reached by a Soyuz TMA-13 launched on 12 October from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
The Act also requires NASA to produce an ISS resupply contingency plan by October 2009 that outlines how ISS partners' could replace NASA's commercial resupply providers if they fail to deliver.