After more than 20 years in space, the International Space Station (ISS) is now entering the last decade of its life. Indeed, after years of exploring various options regarding the future of the space laboratory, NASA has finally decided on the means used to send the ISS into retirement.
In a statement, the US space agency said it wants to keep the ISS in orbit until the end of 2030. But then the plan will be to drop the station in a region of the Pacific Ocean called Point Nemo. NASA said the plan represented a “transition from operations to commercial services”, showing once again that it encourages private space projects.
NASA has written the details of the end of the ISS in a document called “ISS Transition Plan” submitted to the United States Congress.
Re-entry into the atmosphere
According to what can be read in the document submitted to Congress, mission control will start by firing thrusters to gently lower the altitude of the ISS. Around January 2031, the station will be close to the Earth’s atmosphere and will be able to perform the final maneuver to ensure a landing in the uninhabited area of the Pacific called SPOUA or South Pacific Oceanic Uninhabited Area.
The area known as Point Nemo is a well-known site for many countries to drop space debris. Since 1971, over 263 pieces have been sent to this location.
Regarding the ISS, the document indicates that not all visiting vessels will be able to assist during re-entry into the atmosphere. According to the information, NASA and its partners assessed the number of Russian Progress craft needed to carry out the operation, and they determined that three were needed. However, NASA could also use Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft.
The future of space exploration
With this announcement from NASA, we can only feel a small touch of sadness. In any case, before its retirement, the ISS will be exploited to the maximum, as explained by Robyn Gatens, director of the station at NASA. Gatens said the ISS is now entering its third and most productive decade as a microgravity science platform. He added that they hope to maximize returns through 2030 while planning a transition to private space destinations.
Currently, NASA is working with private partners to attach docking modules to the station. The agency also hopes to establish at least one in three commercial space stations with the help of these private partners.
The end of the ISS will mark the end of an era of collaboration between several countries in the field of space. We know that Russia is currently seeking to have its own space station, and China already has its own.