NASA begins plans to crash the International Space Station into the ocean

NASA begins plans to crash the International Space Station into the ocean
NASA begins plans to crash the International Space Station into the ocean

As the ISS (International Space Station) nears the end of its operational life, NASA has begun preparations for its dismantling and disappearance. To start with, the US space agency has offered to SpaceX, Elon Musk’s company$843 million to destroy it. SpaceX will therefore develop and build the deorbiter vehicle that will be used to deorbit the space station and return it safely to Earth.

NASA begins plans to crash the International Space Station into the oceanMidjourney/Sarah Romero

“The selection of a U.S. deorbit vehicle for the International Space Station will help NASA and its international partners “We are committed to ensuring a safe and responsible transition to low-Earth orbit at the end of station operations. This decision also supports NASA’s plans for future commercial deployments and enables the continued use of near-Earth space,” explained Ken Bowersox, associate administrator for the Space Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington in a press release. “The orbiting laboratory remains a model for science, exploration and partnerships in space for the benefit of all.”

Weighing 430,000 kilogramsthe ISS is by farthe largest structure ever built in space The demolition will push the massive, iconic station – humanity’s orbital laboratory – through Earth’s atmosphere in a fiery display. If anything goes wrong, a cascade of debris could rain down on our planet’s surface.

How will it be dismantled?

Based on past observations of how other stations such as Mir and Skylab disintegrated upon re-entry into the atmosphere, NASA engineers They expect the orbital outpost to break up in three stagesIn the first, the huge solar panels and radiators will break off; then individual modules and finally the station’s main structure, or truss, will break off.

“Much of the space station can be repaired or replaced in orbit, while other parts can be returned to Earth for repair and relaunch. These parts include the solar arrays, communications equipment, life support equipment, and science hardware,” NASA explains. “However, the station’s main structure, such as the crew modules and truss structures, cannot be practically repaired or replaced.”

All good things must come to an endiStock

Since large chunks of the material are likely to survive, the goal is to aim for a distant location in the ocean, Point Nemo in the Pacific Ocean, which is one of the most remote regions in the world and where there will be no danger of damage of any kind, in which case, it will be certain, that the materials will not be completely vaporized. The ISS will crash into our planet’s atmosphere. at a speed of over 27,500 km/h before landing/crashing in what is already a graveyard of satellites and spacecraft.

Even though more than 3,300 scientific experiments have been completed in near-Earth orbit inside this spectacular laboratory where humans have been living continuously in space for almost 24 years, the station is already showing signs of its technological “old age”: There are many technical failures, many leaks, a growing problem of special debris orbiting the Earth at high speed… so the end of the station was set to come in 2030.

The initial parts of the ISS were launched in 1998 and by the time operations end in 2030 they will have been in space for two years longer than their expected useful life.Midjourney/Sarah Romero

The deadlines

He US Deorbit Vehicle SpaceX’s next-gen tug will have to be unmanned to avoid any problems. It’s not known what the tug will look like, but it could resemble its Dragon series of crew and cargo carriers. Or they might design a custom-made craft. Either way, It will be a technical challenge for Musk’s company. Safely destroying the space station will be even more difficult than assembling it (something that has taken 42 different launches). Building and maintaining the station has involved five agencies: NASA, CSA (Canada), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe) and Roscosmos (Russia), which have spent billions of dollars on the project.

As the ISS approaches Earth and all crew have left the station and collected all key scientific equipment, it will reach the point of no return and that is when the tug will kick in, attaching itself to the ISS, which measures 109 metres and weighs more than 450 tonnes, and pulling it into Earth’s atmosphere. The mission must ensure that space debris from the station reaches the ocean rather than land. Although SpaceX will operate the project, NASA will be the one to manage and take possession of the vehicle deorbit mission, as well as the mission to deorbit the retired space station.

And what will happen if we are left without a space station? Several companies are working on commercial successors to the ISS, including, notably, Axiom Space and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. One of the most interesting is Starlab (a joint venture between Voyager Space and Europe’s Airbus), which would be launched in orbit in 2028 and could accommodate eight people on three floors weighing about 150 metric tons that a Starship would carry into low Earth orbit (LEO).

Artist’s impression of an international space stationMidjourney/Sarah Romero

References:

  • NASA Selects International Space Station US Deorbit Vehicle. Press Release 24 june 2024. Nasa Headquarters.
 
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