NASA Reveals How and When it Will Destroy the International Space Station
The International Space Station (ISS) is now in its third decade of expanding the bounds of scientific knowledge, and scientists the world over have high hopes for what it can still accomplish. However, the station isn’t going to last forever, and NASA has just released a report detailing its plans to leave the ISS behind. Of course, they can’t just leave it up there, so the plan includes specifics on how NASA and its partners will destroy the iconic station in less than ten years.
Assembly of the station began in the late 90s, relying heavily on the aging Space Shuttle to hoist most of the modular sections into space. The primary structure was completed in 2010, but the station has continued to expand over the years with the help of space agencies the world over. However, most see a future where the government-funded ISS falls by the wayside (and into the atmosphere), moving space operations to “CLDs” or Commercial Low-Earth Orbit Destinations.
To ensure the ISS doesn’t become a space hazard, it will be allowed to drop into the atmosphere. It’ll take a while to get there, though. NASA and its partners plan to spend the 2020s doing important research on the ISS, exploring the effects of long-term spaceflight, climate change, and the potential impact of future commercial activities in orbit.
According to the NASA report, the ISS will begin preparing for its doom in 2030. That’s when NASA will fire up the engines on the station itself as well as vehicles attached to it, burning retrograde to lower its orbit. A year later in January 2031, the station will pass the point of no return, where drag rapidly accelerates its descent into the atmosphere. The ISS is so large that it won’t completely disintegrate during reentry. That’s why NASA has planned for the long, slow descent, allowing controllers to maneuver the ISS into the “South Pacific Oceanic Uninhabited Area” or SPOUA.
NASA won’t be completely out of the space station business after ditching the ISS. The agency has started preliminary work on the Lunar Gateway, a small station and communication hub that would support crewed expeditions to the moon and beyond. However, construction of the Gateway relies on Artemis Program launches, and the Space Launch System (SLS) mega-rocket is still not ready for prime time. NASA hopes to conduct the first uncrewed test flight of the SLS later this year.