NASA and international partners plan to deorbit the ISS by 2030

NASA and international space agencies are planning to decommission and destroy the International Space Station (ISS), a symbol of global cooperation in space exploration. For 24 years, the ISS has hosted a rotating crew of astronauts who have conducted crucial experiments for future space missions and life on Earth.

However, the ISS is showing signs of wear. Since a leak was detected in August 2020, technical issues have persisted. In 2021, Russia’s state news agency reported that Russia was considering exiting the ISS program due to increasing technical malfunctions and the station’s aging infrastructure.

NASA is shifting its focus towards supporting private space stations, like those developed by Axiom Space. Axiom plans to attach its first modules to the ISS before detaching them to form an independent station.

The ISS, still operational until 2030 with support from NASA and other agencies, requires meticulous planning for its decommissioning. The station weighs 450,000 kg and spans the length of a football field. NASA has selected SpaceX to develop a vehicle capable of safely bringing the ISS down to Earth, with an $843 million contract. This spacecraft will “deorbit” the ISS, ensuring it breaks up in the atmosphere without posing risks to people on the ground.

Ken Bowersox, NASA’s associate administrator for Space Operations Mission Directorate, stated, “Selecting a US Deorbit Vehicle for the International Space Station will help NASA and its international partners ensure a safe and responsible transition in low Earth orbit at the end of station operations.”

The decommissioning of the ISS involves the collaborative efforts of space agencies from Canada, Europe, Japan, the US, and Russia. This process mirrors the intentional destruction of Russia’s Mir space station in 2001 and the deorbiting of the Russian Pirs module in 2021.