NASA’s final plans have emerged for the ISS to be decommissioned at the end of this decade. As part of these plans, NASA and international partners considered proposals to create a spacecraft that would take the station out of orbit.
Under current policy, NASA and most international partners plan to keep the ISS in operation until 2030, by which time its core structure will be too worn out to safely accommodate astronauts. However, the question arose about how to safely dispose of the 100-ton structure.
Placing the station into a higher orbit is not feasible due to the colossal amount of energy required, as well as overloads that could lead to the destruction of the station. The alternative is a controlled descent into the atmosphere, where the station will burn up and the remaining debris will fall into an uninhabited area – into the ocean.
NASA opens final chapter for ISS: new plan to deorbit the International Space Station
Initially, it was planned to use Russian Progress robotic cargo ships to send the ISS into the desired orbit, but a year-long study by NASA and partners showed that this option was ineffective. Unstable relations between Russia and other partners, as well as Russia’s withdrawal from the ISS in 2028, make this plan not reliable enough.
As an alternative, NASA proposes that American companies develop their own spacecraft to remove the station from orbit, which will be used for the final phase, when the orbit, with a natural decrease in altitude, becomes insufficient to enter the atmosphere. A new device can be a modification of an existing one or a completely new project. Since the device has only one attempt to complete its task, it is expected to have a high level of fault tolerance and system redundancy.