NASA shared plans for the future of the ISS: what awaits the station before the inevitable finale

(ORDO NEWS) — NASA has released updated plans for the final years of the International Space Station ahead of its final scrapping in 2030.

The station will eventually sink into Earth’s atmosphere and burn up somewhere over the South Pacific.

Ever since the ISS project was first announced in the 1980s, it has been plagued by controversy, sweeping changes in mission structure, uncertainty about how long the United States will remain involved in operating the station, and even how long the space mission will last. station will be operational.

The idea for the American space station originated in the mind of rocket pioneer Wernher von Braun, who saw it as a base from which to assemble and launch crewed missions to Mars and beyond. In fact, the space shuttle was given the green light to ferry materials needed for the station and the construction of Martian ships.

This plan quickly fell by the wayside when the Nixon administration indefinitely postponed the Mars mission, but the station was back on track in the 1980s. Officially, it was America’s answer to the Soviet Salyut space stations, although some cynics said it was “just the place where the space shuttle was supposed to go.”

Over time, Japan and ESA partnered with NASA to supply modules for the station, and in 1993 Russia signed a contract to build the International Space Station, partly as a sign of solidarity between the US and the post-communist regime, and partly as a way to keep Russian space engineers employed. at home rather than letting them go abroad.

The question of the future of the ISS remained relevant throughout the entire period of operation of the station. Will it be abandoned in 2016? 2020? 2025? Will it survive until 2030, but without US involvement for the past five years, or will Russia bring back its modules to build its own station?

Future of the ISS

As the Biden administration has committed to keeping the US in the ISS program until 2030, NASA has now outlined the last eight years of the station’s life and how it will be disposed of.

Leaving aside a long list of experiments, initiatives, budget lines, and general platitudes about helping all of humanity, the work of the ISS until 2030 will include a number of steps, some of which are already underway.

For example, new hardware is being installed at the station to keep it fully operational, and engineering assessments are ongoing to ensure the ISS remains structurally sound, though NASA says thermal and gravity loads are taking their toll and the structure itself is pretty worn out.

The other part of the plan is to move from a purely government initiative to a practice on the ISS that involves more and more private companies.

As part of this, NASA is funding various projects to expand the knowledge, skills and experience of the private sector in low Earth orbit so that it can take on responsibility for tasks other than conducting experiments or moving crews from American soil to the station.

The ultimate goal is for companies to build their own space stations, starting with private modules to be installed on the ISS for testing and evaluation before undocking to form the core of new stations.

By 2030, NASA will send its own astronauts to these stations or hire private astronauts to provide services to the space agency.

The American vision is for low Earth orbit to become the property of private companies that will work for NASA, as well as other clients, as the agency focuses its manned spaceflight program on the Moon and Mars, possibly with the national space laboratory on the near-Earth orbit.

As for the ISS, for now the station will operate as usual, although from 2026 the laboratory will be allowed to gradually lose altitude.

From June to November 2030, three additional uncrewed Progress cargo ships will dock with the station and use their engines to slow the ISS. The exact schedule will depend on solar activity, which can expand the Earth’s atmosphere and increase drag.

When the station reaches an altitude of 280 km, it will pass the point of no return and it will be impossible to return it to a safe orbit.

After the last engine burns out, the ISS will submerge into Earth’s atmosphere in a controlled re-entry, breaking up over the South Pacific Uninhabited Area (SPOUA), where all unused parts of the station will fall into the sea.

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