NASA has enlisted the help of the astronautics company SpaceX to champion the destruction of the International Space Station (ISS)in 2030. 

This photo provided by NASA shows the International Space Station from the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour during a fly around of the orbiting lab that took place following its undocking from the Harmony module’s space-facing port, Nov. 8, 2021. NASA has awarded an $843 million contract to SpaceX to build the vehicle that will bring the International Space Station out of its longtime orbit around Earth when its operating lifespan ends in a few more years. (AP)

The agency announced on Wednesday that it has roped in Elon Musk‘s company with an $843 million contract to build the “US Deorbit Vehicle.” Per their scheduled plan, SpaceX‘s spacecraft will guide the football-field-sized research laboratory back into our planet’s atmosphere after the ISS’ retirement later this decade. 

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The so-called “Deorbit Vehicle” (USDV) will push the ISS into reentry from orbit, thereby decommissioning it. 

“It is crucial to prepare for the safe and responsible deorbit of the International Space Station in a controlled manner,” NASA announced in a press release, eyeing “avoidance of risk to populated areas.”

“At the end of the space station’s useful life in 2030, NASA and its international partners will deorbit the station, safely disposing the vehicle into a remote part of the ocean,” the agency revealed in its ISS Deorbit Analysis Summary. 

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The ISS was assembled by the United States, Japan, Russia, Europe, and Canada. Its first piece was launched in November 1998. Indisputably, the space station, which would an almost a million pounds on Earth, is aging. 

Why destroy the ISS?

NASA and its lead partner, Roscosmos (Russian State Space Corporation), are currently grappling with the exacerbating issue of microscopic leaks on the ISS. 

The agency also revealed that the originally designed parts at the space station’s core, which include the modules where the crew lives, with truss structures providing electrical power, cooling, communications and other capabilities, were designed for a 30-year structural life in low Earth orbit. 

However, the first pieces of the space station, the Functional Cargo Block “Zarya” (FGB) and Node 1 “Unity” will complete their 32-year lifecycle in 2030. While other components were launched much later, the primary structure of the station cannot be practically repaired or replaced. 

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On Wednesday, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration revealed an analysis of why it has decided to destroy the station. Before reaching its conclusion, the agency weighed several other alternatives, like disassembling the ISS and returning to Earth or boosting it to a higher orbit with the help of a large spacecraft. Therefore, deorbiting the station at its life’s end is the “safest and only viable” method to decommission the longest-serving crewed vehicle in space in human history. 

Their study published on Wednesday ultimately ascertained that destroying into upon reentry was the only economically or technically feasible option. Considerations of extending the station’s lifetime beyond 2030 are still up in the air, with NASA waiting on the agreement of its international partners. 

Meanwhile, NASA plans to replace the ISS with privately built space stations. 


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