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Space X Will Assist in Deploying NASA’s International Space Station

Image Source: Reuters

NASA has chosen SpaceX to build a spacecraft called the US Deorbit Vehicle, aimed at safely returning the International Space Station (ISS) to Earth and guiding it for a controlled reentry into the Pacific Ocean once it retires in 2030. This contract, valued potentially at $843 million, marks a significant step in preparing for the end of the ISS’s mission.

Ken Bowersox, speaking on behalf of NASA, stressed the importance of selecting a dedicated US Deorbit Vehicle to ensure a smooth and secure transition as the ISS completes its operations in low Earth orbit. 

This decision underscores NASA’s proactive approach to managing the decommissioning of the ISS, which involves a complex process of safely bringing down the station in stages. By opting for a specific deorbit vehicle, NASA aims to meticulously guide the ISS through its final descent, minimizing risks and ensuring that the remnants of the station safely disintegrate over the remote waters of the Pacific Ocean.

Overall, NASA’s selection of SpaceX for this crucial task reflects their confidence in SpaceX’s capabilities and represents a strategic move towards responsibly concluding the ISS’s remarkable tenure in space exploration. NASA’s engineers predict that the decommissioning of the ISS will occur in stages during atmospheric reentry. Initially, the solar arrays and cooling radiators will detach, followed by individual modules separating from the station’s truss structure. Ultimately, both the truss and modules will disintegrate, with some parts vaporizing and others potentially surviving reentry.

To mitigate risks, NASA plans for the controlled descent to end in the Pacific Ocean’s Point Nemo, a remote area known for serving as a “spacecraft graveyard” due to its isolation.

Since its launch in 1998, the ISS has hosted continuous international crews since 2001, with commitments from the US, Japan, Canada, and European Space Agency (ESA) member states to operate it through 2030. However, Russia, another key partner, has committed only through 2028 amidst strained US-Russia relations.

NASA’s decision to develop the US Deorbit Vehicle aligns with plans to safely deorbit the ISS, ensuring it does not pose a risk to other spacecraft or inhabited areas. Concurrently, private companies like Axiom Space and Blue Origin are exploring commercial successors to the ISS, marking a transitional phase in human space exploration beyond the station’s operational lifespan.

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