NASA Says That Days Are Numbered for ISS

The International Space Station

T-minus 9 years and counting. . . .

That’s how much time NASA has given the International Space Station (ISS) to complete its operational life and mission before it is finally decommissioned and goes out with a bang in a controlled deorbit set for January, 2031. The final resting place for the ISS (or whatever is left of it following its fiery reentry and meteor-like fall through Earth’s atmosphere) will be the remote seabed of the sparsely populated South Pacific.

After more than twenty years of continuous occupation (since November, 2000) by rotating astronaut crews “the International Space Station is entering its third and most productive decade as a groundbreaking scientific platform in microgravity,” according to Robyn Gatens, Director of the International Space Station at NASA headquarters, in a statement released Monday, January 31.

“This third decade is one of results, building on our successful global partnership to verify exploration and human research technologies to support deep space exploration, continue to return medical and environmental benefits to humanity, and lay the groundwork for a commercial future in low-Earth orbit,” Gatens continued. “We look forward to maximizing these returns from the space station through 2030 while planning for transition to commercial space destinations that will follow.”

Those “commercial space destinations” Gatens alluded to will include privately-owned space stations built by contractors such as Blue Origin, Nanoracks and Northrop Grumman, who were awarded a total of $415 million in contracts by the agency in December, 2021. Axiom Space, another NASA contractor, is also scheduled to launch multiple modules into space in 2024. These will initially be attached to the ISS duing its final years of service but will then be detached to form the nucleus of a new space station before the final decommissioning of the ISS. NASA wants to have at least one of the planned privately owned space stations fully operational before the ISS is taken out of service, so that there will be no gap in orbital research.

It is estimated that the switch to commercially owned-and-operated space stations will save NASA more than $1.3 billion starting in 2031, money which it plans to put toward deep-space exploration projects.

If all goes as planned for the controlled deorbit of ISS in 2031, its fall from the heavens will pose no risk to any humans – though some of those who have spent time aboard its facilities or followed its decades-long exploits might shed a tear or two.

In the meantime though, there’s plenty of time left to catch a glimpse of the ISS as it passes over your locale on a clear night.

Source: Scientific American

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