By Dean Murray
The International Space Station will be crashed back to Earth using a billion dollar “space tug.”
NASA is making plans to safely take the ISS out of orbit after 2030, and have asked the U.S. government for $178 million to make a “healthy start” on the mission.
The space agency’s plans would enable them to cut the Russians out of the process.
The ISS is not owned by one single nation and is a “co-operative program” between Europe, the United States, Russia, Canada and Japan.
NASA’s plan echoes that of Russia’s de-orbit of their space station Mir in 2001.
After 15 years in orbit, Mir was guided Earthwards by a small spacecraft and reentered over the Pacific Ocean.
NASA is also keen to avoid a scenario similar to the return of Skylab, the first U.S. space station.
Delays in the development of the Space Shuttle meant Skylab’s decaying orbit could not be stopped, and atmospheric reentry began in 1979.
Debris showered Western Australia, and recovered pieces indicated that the station had disintegrated lower than expected.
The Biden-Harris Administration released the President’s Budget for Fiscal Year 2024 this month.
An outline of the proposal requested $27.2 billion for the agency, a 7.1% increase from 2023.
The “Budget of the U.S. Government” document, published on March 9, outlines the ISS plan under the title “Prepares for the International Space Station’s Safe Transition.”
It reads: “The International Space Station will need to be safely deorbited at the end of its operational life as the United States transitions to lower-cost commercial space stations.
“Rather than relying on Russian systems that may not be able to accomplish this task, the Budget provides $180 million to initiate development of a new space tug that may also be useful for other space transportation Missions.”
During a press conference Monday, space.com reported NASA Associate Administrator for Space Operations Kathy Lueders as saying “a cost estimate we had was a little short of about $1 billion.”
Last year, the Biden-Harris Administration made a commitment to extend space station operations until 2030.
NASA announced a planned date of January 2031 to de-orbit the ISS using a module to direct any remnants into a remote area of the South Pacific Ocean.
A January 2022 document outlined ISS end-of-life de-orbit planning assumptions.
It detailed scheduled retrograde maneuvres to begin slowly lowering the operational altitude of the ISS.
The result would be a controlled break-up of the station into the ocean.
The “International Space Station Transition Report” document reads: “This lower altitude results in higher velocity overall. Eventually, after performing maneuvers to line up the final target ground track and debris footprint over the South Pacific Oceanic Uninhabited Area (SPOUA), the area around Point Nemo, ISS operators will perform the ISS re-entry burn, providing the final push to lower ISS as much as possible and ensure safe atmospheric entry.”
In 2001, Russia’s space station Mir was bought back to Earth using the thrusters of small spacecraft, the Progress M1-5, to lower its orbit.
On March 23, Mir entered the Earth’s atmosphere at an altitude of about 62 miles and began to disintegrate at about 50 miles. Debris impacted the south Pacific east of New Zealand.
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