International Space Station

NASA Plans to Retire International Space Station in 2031

The ISS will intentionally crash into Earth's area known as Point Nemo in the Pacific Ocean

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The International Space Station will continue its operation until 2030 and then crash into an uninhabited area in the Pacific Ocean known as Point Nemo, NASA announced Monday.

It will be replaced with three free-flying space stations to continue the work after ISS's retirement, NASA said.

The agency has entered into commercial agreements with three companies to develop the stations: Blue Origin of Kent, Washington, Nanoracks LLC, of Houston, Texas, and Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation of Dulles, Virginia.

NASA also selected Houston-based Axiom Space to provide the ISS's first commercial module. 

Phil McAlister, NASA’s director of commercial space, said they will share lessons learned and operations experience to ensure the best outcomes, security and cost-wise. NASA projected that it will save $1.3 billion passing the mission onto the private platforms.

“The private sector is technically and financially capable of developing and operating commercial low-Earth orbit destinations, with NASA’s assistance,” McAlister said.

How Will the Space Station Be Destroyed?

The de-orbit of the ISS will happen in 2031, as NASA estimated in the station’s latest budget. It is meant to land around 2,500 miles east of New Zealand’s coast. The watery area is known as “spacecraft cemetery” where more than 160 crafts and space stations from Japan, Russia and European countries rest.

First the the station’s modules will separate from the primary structure, according to NASA’s transition plan report. The operational altitude will then be lowered until it reaches the level of the Earth’s atmosphere.

After that, NASA will send cargo vehicles to help push the decommissioned space station toward the Earth to prepare for reentry. While most of it will burn up upon entering the atmosphere due to friction, some will survive until it crashes into the remote ocean.

NASA said Russian Progress, Northrop Grumman and Cygnus spacecrafts might be sent as needed to deorbit the ISS.

ISS Enters Its Third Decade

Prior to the transition in 2030, it will continue research, enabling deep space exploration, fostering a U.S. commercial space industry and leading international collaboration, NASA said.

“We look forward to maximizing these returns from the space station through 2030 while planning for transition to commercial space destinations that will follow,” said Robyn Gatens, director of the ISS.

NASA launched the ISS in 1998. It has served as a site for scientific study, an observatory for climate change, and home to over 200 researchers from nearly 20 countries.

The space station was initially created to last only 15 years. But President Joe Biden has extended the operation until 2030 as NASA said the structure of the station has shown to be safe.

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus cargo ship delivered pizza and other foods to the International Space Station on Thursday.
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