How NASA plans to retire the International Space Station by sending it to a watery grave – Technology News, Firstpost
FP StaffFebruary 07, 2022 15:05:45 IST
The International Space Station (ISS) has been orbiting Earth for more than two decades now, enabling scientific discoveries that would not have been possible without this airborne laboratory with an international crew of astronauts on board.
But as all is well, the date of retirement is fixed. NASA announced last week that the spacecraft will retire in 2031 and dive into the South Pacific.
Dramatic as it may sound, the decommissioning of the International Space Station will be a highly technical and calculated move by NASA that will open up opportunities for further space exploration.
Let’s take a look at the space station’s history, tasks and inevitable retirement:
What is ISS
The ISS, a brainchild of former US President Ronald Reagan, was envisioned in 1984 as a permanently inhabited spacecraft.
From 1998 to 2000, the space station was built piece by piece and transported aboard several space shuttles. On November 2, 2000, it welcomed the first crew.
Over the past more than 20 years, more than 200 astronauts and cosmonauts from 19 different countries have boarded the space station at various times.
In the words of NASA, “the International Space Station is a unique laboratory that brings back tremendous scientific, educational and technological advances for the benefit of humans on Earth and allows us to travel into deep space.”
To give it a more observable definition, the ISS is an artificial satellite in low Earth orbit where astronauts can stay for months and do scientific research.
The ISS is a multinational collaborative project involving NASA (US), Roscosmos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe) and CSA (Canada).
The ISS serves as a microgravity and space laboratory for research in many fields, including astrobiology, astronomy, meteorology and physics.
The ISS weighs about a million pounds on Earth and is about the size of an American football field. The space station can accommodate a crew of six. It also has laboratory modules from USA, Russia, Japan and Europe.
How will ISS retire?
NASA has presented the ISS Transition Report, which outlines plans for the space station over the next decade, including its retirement.
According to NASA budget estimates, the return of the ISS to Earth’s atmosphere will take place in January 2031.
The ISS mission control starts by decreasing the altitude, resulting in a higher overall speed. The spacecraft would be maneuvered to align with its final target on the ground, the South Pacific uninhabited area (SPOUA).
Near Point Nemo, which is considered a space cemetery, where most decommissioned space projects are focused. It is located about 2,700 km from the country and is named after a character from Jules Verne’s “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea”.
The ISS was previously intended to be operational for 15 years, but in 2014 NASA extended its time in space for another 10 years.
With NASA’s latest announcement, it will last nearly a decade longer than its previous tenure.
The @Space station has been providing a unique opportunity for research and results for over 20 years – that’s a lot of science!
— NASA (@NASA) January 31, 2022
What after ISS
Once ISS is retired, it will be replaced by “one or more commercial space platforms owned and operated”.
Phil McAlister, director of commercial space at NASA, said in a statement that the private sector is technically and financially able to develop and operate low-Earth orbit commercial destinations with the help of NASA.
The space agency estimates it will save $1.3 billion in 2031 alone by moving from ISS to renting space aboard private commercial platforms.
The money saved by this transition will be used for NASA’s deep space exploration initiatives.
With input from agencies