For some time now there has been talk of plans to retire the International Space Station, a topic that is becoming more and more recurrent when new breakdowns or other problematic situations that astronauts have to face become known. However, until now it was not known for sure how it would be removed from Earth’s orbit, but now NASA has provided details that shed light on the procedure.
The International Space Station will crash into the Pacific Ocean. It is a harsh – and even alarming – sentence, but it represents the end of a cycle. However, for everyone’s peace of mind, this will not happen overnight. According to the U.S. space agency, the intention is that this will not happen until January 2031.
The confirmation of the fate of the International Space Station is part of a transition report that NASA released in recent days. Let’s recall that the international agencies involved in the creation and maintenance of the ISS recently announced the extension of its useful life until 2030. This has meant the renewal of the commitment to sustain a true technological marvel, which has already been in space for more than 20 years.
By extending operations into the early part of the next decade, it will facilitate the adoption of developments belonging to private aerospace companies. “The private sector is technically and financially capable of developing and operating commercial destinations in low-Earth orbit, with NASA’s assistance,” explained Phil McAlister, NASA’s director of commercial spaceflight. In addition, the agency indicated that agreements have already been awarded for the development of three free-flying commercial space stations.
According to NASA, the maneuvers for the decommissioning of the International Space Station will begin two to three years before the target date. It will slowly begin to lower its operational altitude, while work is done to empty it of equipment and eventually remove the crew.
Once the International Space Station crosses the “point of no return,” stipulated at about 280 kilometers altitude, its final destination will be sealed.
Eventually, after performing maneuvers to align the final ground target trajectory and debris track over the South Pacific Ocean Uninhabited Area around Point Nemo, ISS operators will perform the re-entry ignition, providing the final thrust to lower it as far as possible and ensure safe atmospheric entry.
Thus, if the goals are met, the International Space Station will be given a final farewell at the beginning of 2031. But regardless of the procedure to remove it from Earth orbit, the various space agencies have already conducted analyses for the extension of its useful life. The United States, Canada, Europe and Japan have done so until 2028; Russia, meanwhile, has completed it until 2024, but is working to extend it until 2030.