NASA selects SpaceX to destroy the International Space Station

NASA selects SpaceX to destroy the International Space Station
The ISS orbiting Earth in all its glory
The ISS orbiting Earth in all its glory
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The ISS orbiting Earth in all its glory
The ISS orbiting Earth in all its glory
Cuba, Jamaica, and the Caribean Sea, as seen from the ISS
Cuba, Jamaica, and the Caribean Sea, as seen from the ISS
And exploded view (no pun intended) of the ISS and all its various segments
And exploded view (no pun intended) of the ISS and all its various segments
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In a contract worth up to US$843 million, NASA has selected SpaceX to design the "US Deorbit Vehicle." The spacecraft will bring the $150 billion International Space Station out of orbit to safely and burn up in our atmosphere at 3,000 ºF (1,649 ºC).

NASA will take ownership of the deorbit vehicle once completed, and will operate it throughout the mission sometime in 2030. While guiding the ISS into the atmosphere, it is expected that both the deorbit vehicle and the ISS – which is about the size of a six-bedroom, two-bath house – will burn up safely before ever reaching the ground. Should any debris make it to the Earth's surface, it will land safely in a region of the South Pacific Ocean regularly used for deorbiting spacecraft.

It is the responsibility of the five space agencies that operate the ISS – namely the ESA (European Space Agency), JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), CSA (Canadian Space Agency), State Space Corporation Roscosmos (Russia) and NASA – to ensure the safe decommissioning of the ISS at the end of its 30-year operational life.

NASA is currently spending just over $3 billion per year on the space station program, with $1.3 billion on operations aboard the station and nearly $1.8 billion on crew and cargo transportation.

"This amount can be applied to NASA’s deep space exploration initiatives, allowing the Agency to explore further and faster into deep space," NASA states in its transition from ISS report. "This amount can also be applied to other NASA programs."

With the ISS weighing in at 925,335 lb (419,725 kg) and traveling at 18,000 mph (29,000 km/h) while orbiting the earth every 90 minutes, this will be no easy feat for SpaceX engineers, who will be responsible for the design of the craft.

And exploded view (no pun intended) of the ISS and all its various segments
And exploded view (no pun intended) of the ISS and all its various segments

It will be a day of sadness for the space community

The ISS has been a true symbol of international cooperation and scientific advancement in space exploration.

The project began in November of 1998, with modules flown to low-Earth orbit where the space station could be assembled. Nearly two years later to the day, cosmonauts Sergey Krikalev and Yuri Gidzenko along with astronaut William Shepherd flew into orbit, docked with the ISS, and were the first aboard. In the nearly 24 years since then, the station has been continually occupied by space explorers from 23 different countries.

Much has changed technology-wise since the beginning of the project, but the International Space Station will forever carry the legacy of being the first of its kind. Even in times of geopolitical turmoil 227 miles below, the ISS has been a place where be it mission-critical or mundane, the science, the learning, and the humanity are all that matters.

The end of ISS, but the beginning of something more

In 2020, NASA awarded a $140 million contract to Axiom Space to provide at least one habitable commercial module for attachment to the ISS. Axiom hopes to attach its first module to the station by 2026, with plans for a second and third module each year after. When it comes time for the ISS to push daisies, Axiom can detach its modules to form its own independent commercially available floating space station.

Also in the making is the Lunar Gateway – a smaller international space station that will sit at the Lagrange Point between the Earth and the Moon – as a stopping point for lunar missions. NASA additionally has agreements with Blue Origin, Nanoracks LLC, and Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation for other free-flying modules.

Cuba, Jamaica, and the Caribean Sea, as seen from the ISS
Cuba, Jamaica, and the Caribean Sea, as seen from the ISS

Interesting facts about the ISS

  • The space station is 356 ft (109 m) from one end to the other, and can accommodate as many as eight spaceships docked simultaneously with 13,696 cubic feet (388 cubic meters) of habitable pressurized space
  • Constructing the ISS was a monumental endeavor, with 42 launches ferrying its modules and components to low-Earth orbit
  • The ISS has been host to nearly 3,000 research experiments
  • In a single 24-hour period, the ISS orbits Earth 16 times – that's 16 sunsets and 16 sunrises, and about the equivalent distance from the Earth to the Moon and back each day
  • The water recovery system on the ISS, which is responsible for the recycling of biological waste and such, reduces the amount of water needed to be delivered from Earth by about 66%
  • The ISS has roughly 350,000 various safety sensors being monitored non-stop
  • The solar array produces between 75-90 kW of power
  • Astronauts have taken more than 3.5 million photos of our planet from the ISS

Source: NASA

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Iain Butcher
So, why not send it after the Voyagers instead?
Captain Danger
For 800M you think you could add a rocket and send it out in the the solar system or crash it into the moon, that would be cool.
Sean Reynolds
I wish they could send it to a Lagrange point instead for a future museum.
Is there a plan for any type of replacement? NASA states using the saved monies for deep space exploration, but I feel we really need a permanent, larger space station, perhaps in a higher orbit. This reminds me of the shuttle were it was decommissioned with no replacement or viable way to get anything sizable into orbit. Will we just be sitting without a space station for decades, or longer? Seems like a missed stepping stone to me.
Just recently read an article that described how much particles are in the upper atmosphere from burning are space junk it seems they should stop the practice. If they got it up they can get it back down. It should be disassembled and retrieved. Short of that, the safest would be to send it to the sun.
Is 90 kW of power not enough to raise its orbit, using a plasma drive? It just seems so wasteful to let all that useful material burn up.
Lots of material already there, in orbit, that could be recycled for use on the moon. At the very least, some of those modules might make great containers for moving material back and forth.
History Nut
I keep reading these plans to destroy the ISS. Only people in government agencies could be that stupid! All the billions spent to loft it and maintain it to be just thrown away! On top of that, they can't be sure it would be adequately disentigrated during reentry to not pose a hazard. 800 billion to come up with a vehicle to destroy it? Common Elon, offer to buy it from them for 10 billion and then use one of your vehicles to move it to a LaGrange point. There it could continue to be a research facility and a "lifeboat" for space trips gone wrong. Maybe, at the right L-point it could be part of the Mars missions. So many possibilities of future use but the idiots in charge are going to waste more money to destroy it.
Love the title, "... to destroy the ISS" Maybe it's just the child in me. Accurate description, too. Glad the ISS is not sized like "twenty-eight refrigerators" or "eleven thousand bananas."
Does doing this create acid rain? Or poke holes in the atmospheric layers?
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