TechNASA expresses concern about the ISS deorbit. Lack of comprehensive plan may result in catastrophe

NASA expresses concern about the ISS deorbit. Lack of comprehensive plan may result in catastrophe

International Space Station
International Space Station
Images source: © Licensor | NASA
7:29 PM EDT, October 29, 2023

In 1998, the first modules of the International Space Station (ISS) reached orbit. Two years later, the first crewed mission arrived on the ISS. Over two decades later, experts are pondering the future of this sky laboratory, weighing approximately 463 tons, that will eventually need to be de-orbited. NASA is advocating for the construction of a specialized tug that would ensure a secure deorbiting process to avoid any potential disaster.

Space Policy Online recently got the attention by shedding light on the findings of the NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel about the ISS's future. For a long duration, this organization has been pushing for NASA to facilitate the deorbiting of the ISS within the United States and stresses the importance of building a unique tug to safely manage deorbiting.

The ISS will not perpetually orbit over Earth

As stated by Space Policy Online, NASA has already approached the authorities for the "first tranche of funding in the fiscal year 2024," although it is unclear whether the funds for this initiative will be approved. The Chairwoman of the NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, Patricia Sanders is of the opinion that an uncontrolled deorbit of the ISS is too risky due to its enormous size and weight which could "pose a significant threat to a wide area of Earth's population."

The sky laboratory, which weighs approximately 463 tons and is made up of numerous modules, is said by the service to be the most extensive space object ever built. Any loss of control could have severe ramifications. Previously, smaller objects reentry like the Chinese Long March 5B rocket, weighing only about 25 tons, also created substantial concerns among experts. This was primarily due to uncertainties regarding where its debris would land and which parts of the rocket would be burnt up in our atmosphere.

The current plan anticipates the deorbiting of the ISS by 2030. The initial proposal considered using the Russian unmanned spacecraft Progress for this task. However, the uncertainty of Russia's future involvement in the ISS project and its agreement to this potential solution remains unclear.

Hence, NASA has requested from Congress $180 million in the fiscal year of 2024 for the construction of the ISS Deorbit Tug. The total cost of its construction could possibly escalate to a billion dollars. This tug would assist in guiding the ISS's entry into our atmosphere, enabling it to begin burning safely, and directing any unburnt debris towards Point Nemo. This spot in the Pacific Ocean is the farthest point from any landmass.

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