SpaceX Awarded $843M Contract to Deorbit ISS by 2030

international space station
international space station

SpaceX has secured an $843 million contract from NASA to design and build a spacecraft intended to guide the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS, which has been operational for 24 years, will be deorbited around 2030. This “deorbit vehicle” will ensure the ISS makes a controlled re-entry into a remote part of the Pacific Ocean, safeguarding against any risk of debris falling in populated areas.

Although SpaceX is spearheading the spacecraft’s development, NASA will retain control and management of the mission, marking a significant step in responsibly concluding the ISS’s tenure in low Earth orbit.

Reasons for Deorbiting the ISS

Here are some reasons why SpaceX will deorbit the ISS, along with some relevant details

  • Aging Infrastructure: After 24 years in space, the ISS assembly shows signs of wear and tear, with frequent reports of leaks, malfunctions, and other technical issues. Designers intended many of its components to last 30 years, and the main modules will reach their life cycle in 2030.
  • Expiration of Operational Timeframe: The ISS was originally intended to operate for only 15 years, but it has far exceeded its first production life. With the United States, Japan, Canada and European partners committed to work by 2030, and Russia by 2028, they have decided to safely exit the orbital stage
  • Paving the Way for Commercial Space Stations: By leaving the ISS in orbit, NASA aims to support the development of privately owned space stations and allow continued use of low Earth orbit to support mankind’s many commercial Space stations , including Axiom Station and Orbital Reef, are in developments

The Deorbit Process

NASA’s strategic goals include developing a human spaceflight economy through a commercial market in low Earth orbit (LEO). The agency is supporting the creation of commercially-owned and operated LEO destinations via its Commercial LEO Development Program, transitioning from being the sole operator in LEO to becoming one of many customers in a thriving commercial marketplace.

NASA’s efforts also include facilitating private astronaut missions to the ISS, which began in 2019, enabling commercial providers to use the ISS for private astronaut missions. This initiative stimulates the LEO economy by leveraging over two decades of ISS research and technology development for commercial applications.

With the ISS scheduled for deorbiting in 2031, NASA is preparing to transition to commercially-owned and operated LEO destinations. SpaceX’s contract to build the deorbit vehicle is a crucial step towards this goal. The Commercial LEO Destinations program aims to enable private industry to construct and maintain their own space stations, with NASA as a customer.

Future Plans for Low Earth Orbit

One of NASA’s strategic goals is to develop a human spaceflight economy enabled by a commercial market in low Earth orbit (LEO). To achieve this objective, NASA is supporting the development of commercially-owned and operated LEO destinations through its Commercial LEO Development Program. This initiative will allow NASA to transition from being the sole operator in LEO to becoming one of many customers in a robust commercial marketplace.

In addition to fostering the development of commercial LEO destinations, NASA is facilitating private astronaut missions to the International Space Station (ISS), which began in 2019. These missions allow commercial providers to use the ISS for private astronauts, further stimulating the LEO economy.

With the ISS scheduled to be deorbited in 2031, NASA is preparing for the transition to commercially-owned and operated LEO destinations. The agency has awarded a contract to SpaceX to build a deorbit vehicle that will safely bring the ISS out of orbit and into the South Pacific Ocean. This effort will pave the way for the Commercial LEO Destinations program, which aims to enable private industry to build and maintain their own space stations, with NASA as a customer.

Beyond LEO, NASA is also preparing for a return to the Moon through the Artemis program. This includes the development of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, the Orion spacecraft, and the Gateway lunar outpost, which will serve as a staging point for missions to the lunar surface. The agency plans to land astronauts on the lunar South Pole by 2024 and establish a sustainable human presence on the Moon.

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