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NASA revealed how it plans to destroy the International Space Station

Published Jul 8th, 2024 2:44PM EDT
international space station over Earth
Image: dimazel / Adobe

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The International Space Station is one of humanity’s most impressive achievements in space. Having been in orbit since 2000, the station has seen more than 250 humans aboard its cramped corridors. When NASA carries out its ISS deorbit plans in the 2030s, the space agency wants to ensure it treats the station with the respect and care it is due.

We know that NASA has planned to retire the ISS for a couple of years now. And we’ve even known that the agency was targeting a deorbit date sometime in the 2030s. At this point in time, much of the technology aboard the station is aging and it’s just time to finally say goodbye. But what exactly do you do with a massive metal structure that’s as big as a football field and weighs almost 430 tons?

That’s been the crux of the issue with NASA settling on its ISS deorbit plans. And now, the agency has finally settled on SpaceX as the company it wants to award with the contract to carry out the plan. While the agency hoped to be able to preserve some part of the station, that just doesn’t seem possible given how massive its pieces are. Instead, it’ll have to settle for Point Nemo, a piece of ocean located roughly 1,670 miles from land.

Image source: NASA

The mission itself will cost roughly $843 million; at least, that’s how much NASA has awarded SpaceX to carry it out. The agency officially awarded the contract to SpaceX last month—though the writing has been on the wall for quite some time, considering SpaceX’s continued growth in the space industry. The plans have yet to be officially finalized. But we do have a rough idea of what to expect.

NASA’s ISS deorbit plans currently will rely on a deorbit vehicle, which will essentially act as a tugboat for the massive space station. It’ll drag the station down into the atmosphere in a controlled descent, allowing for much of it to burn up on re-entry. What doesn’t burn up will come to rest near Point Nemo. Of course, because of the sheer size of the station, some parts will undoubtedly survive.

That’s why it’s important to ensure that NASA and SpaceX maintain control right up until the end, allowing them to ensure the ISS settles down where it needs to—far away from any people or buildings. Once the ISS has retired, NASA plans to utilize private space stations to carry out future missions in the vacuum. However, exactly how that will all play out will have to wait until someone actually puts a private station in orbit.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.