The International Space Station has contributed to a wide range of issues; from expanding knowledge of the universe, to promoting the birth of the space industry, to leading scientific collaboration in the international community.
But this technological and scientific mega-complex’s days are numbered. Like all space exploration missions, the International Space Station (ISS) has a useful life that is slowly approaching.
Despite the fact that NASA has recently installed new components worth about 355 million euros that ensure its update until 2028, the artificial satellite of 444,615 kilos of weight that floats in low Earth orbit will be redirected inside the atmosphere to crash in mid-ocean by January 2031, as announced by the agency itself and collected by Sky.
The report reflects that the ISS mission has an expiration date, but that NASA will be able to operate “safely” with the ISS until the end of 2030.
As of that date, space exploration and research will fall, in part, to private industry. Both in the new recycling systems or more sustainable use of rockets and spacecraft, as well as in the future launching of commercial space stations into orbit.
Initially, according to the Vox media outlet, the ISS was scheduled to finish its mission in 2028, but an extra margin has been given for private industry to develop and improve the necessary capabilities to operate microgravity platforms.
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NASA itself has confirmed to the United States Congress that, once the ISS has fallen from its orbit, at least one couple of astronauts will stay in commercial space stations at the beginning of the next decade.
NASA Director Bill Nelson has called the ISS “a beacon of peaceful international scientific collaboration” for more than 20 years and that he will continue to be so this decade when all of its mission objectives have been completed.
The International Space Station usually orbits at an altitude of about 408 kilometers in low Earth orbit and takes between 90 and 93 minutes to complete one return to Earth; making around 16 daily orbits, it depends on the altitude at which it is.
In January 2031, NASA plans to slowly lower the ISS into the atmosphere, where the resistance of increasingly dense air will cause resistance to increase and heat the materials that make it up to very high temperatures. The biggest drawback is here, due to the speed and resistance you will experience, the structure may start to loosen some parts. A part of them will disintegrate when re-entering the atmosphere, but there is a risk that these materials will crash in an uncontrolled way or increase the already worrying amount of space debris.
In order to avoid this, or at least minimize the risks of an uncontrolled descent, NASA wants the megastructure to crash in the South Pacific Ocean, at specific coordinates called Point Nemo; the farthest place from any land area on the planet.
This specific point is the usual graveyard for the space missions of the US space agency, according to Interesting Engineering.