It will take a while, but NASA is already working on the inevitable end of the International Space Station. According to a plan presented by the US space agency this week, it will crash in a controlled place in the Pacific Ocean in 2031.
The Biden administration decided to keep the ISS operational until the end of the decade in December, despite reports of minor defects in the danger, the oldest parts of which revolve around the Earth since 1998. For example, it was discovered in 2020 that air was leaking out due to cracks in one of the modules, Zvezda. NASA, together with its international partners, wants to address the technical problems that have recently been mainly occurring in the Russian segment.
In the ISS Transition Plan, NASA describes how the organization wants to continue using the station this decade.
The intention is that one or more commercial space stations will be developed during that period, where NASA astronauts will also reside in addition to tourists. Before that, an agreement has already been concluded with three companies that have plans to do so.
The ISS itself also has a role in that transition. For example, Axiom wants to link its own modules to the ISS in a few years. Later this month, the company brings its first space tourists to the ISS with a Dragon capsule from SpaceX, the company of Tesla owner Elon Musk.
In addition, the ISS will be used in the coming years in the preparation for missions further into space. For example, experiments are being tested that could later be carried out on missions to the Moon and Mars.
When the last astronauts have left the International Space Station, in January 2031, the more than 400 tonnes of danger will slowly be brought into an increasingly lower orbit where it is slowed down by particles in the upper layers of the atmosphere.
With some final maneuvers, the course is then calculated in such a way that if the station disintegrates in the atmosphere, the debris will fall into a specific location in the Pacific Ocean, Point Nemo. Thats a point in the ocean far from the mainland: 4500 kilometers from New Zealand and 3500 kilometers from Antarctica.
Large satellites and space stations, such as the Russian Mir and the Chinese space lab Tiangong-1, have ended more often in that space graveyard, and a total of the wreckage of more than 260 spacecraft at Point Nemo have ended up in the ocean since 1971.