According to NASA, the International Space Station (ISS) will continue to operate until 2030 before being destroyed by a collision with the Pacific Ocean in early 2031.
According to a report released this week by the United States space agency, the International Space Station (ISS) will crash into a section of the ocean known as Point Nemo.
This is the location on the planet Earth that is the furthest away from land, and it is also known as the spacecraft cemetery.
An abundance of old satellites and other space junk has collided with it, including the Russian space station Mir, which crashed there in 2001.
The International Space Station (ISS) has been in orbit since 1998 and has been continuously crewed since 2000. It is a joint project of five space agencies. More than 3,000 research investigations have taken place in the laboratory’s microgravity environment.
But it is only approved to operate until 2024, and any extension must be approved by all of the participating organisations.
According to Nasa, the decision to decommission the International Space Station heralds the beginning of a transition from the government to the private sector for activities in low-Earth orbit – the region of space closest to the Earth.
“With NASA’s assistance, the private sector is technically and financially capable of developing and operating commercial low-Earth orbit destinations,” said Phil McAlister, NASA’s director of commercial space operations at the agency’s headquarters in Washington.
Nasa awarded a contract to the Texas-based company Axiom Space in 2020 to build at least one habitable module that would be attached to the International Space Station. It has also provided funding to three companies in order to help them develop designs for space stations and other commercial destinations in outer space.
It is hoped that these new projects will be in orbit before the International Space Station is decommissioned.
Nasa says it hopes to establish a “viable, American-led commercial economy in low-Earth orbit” by the year 2020.
The commercial sector already plays an important role in the United States space programme, with private companies responsible for delivering crew and cargo to the International Space Station. The Soyuz and Progress spacecrafts of Russia are also utilised.
According to Nasa, the transfer of low-Earth orbit activities to the private sector will save the agency $1.3 billion (£956 million), which will allow the agency to spend the money saved on deep space exploration.
Nasa expects to save money because it will only pay for the services it requires rather than for the maintenance and operation of the International Space Station (ISS). As an added bonus, Nasa points out that the privately owned space stations will be newer and therefore should require fewer replacement parts.
As part of its annual budget analysis, Nasa says it will continue to refine its savings estimates for the International Space Station (ISS).
The transition report published by Nasa this week comes after the administration of US President Joe Biden announced that it had committed to extending the space station’s operations until 2030, according to the report.
To be successful, the extension will still require the cooperation of international partners such as Russia, and funding for the International Space Station has only been approved by the United States Congress until 2024.
During an interview with the Russian news agency Interfax published in December 2021, Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russia’s space programme, expressed a willingness to continue working with Nasa beyond the year 2024.
According to him, “actions speak louder than words.” “This year, we launched a new Nauka module to the International Space Station, which is expected to operate for at least 10 years.”
The head of Roscosmos also expressed concern that US sanctions against Russia were having a negative impact on the Russian space industry, and he has previously stated that Russia may withdraw from the International Space Station (ISS) if the sanctions are not lifted.
Further sanctions against Russia have been threatened by the United States and its Western allies if the country invades Ukraine, although the nature of those sanctions has not yet been determined.
Russia has previously stated that structural fatigue means the International Space Station will be unable to function beyond 2030, and that outdated equipment could lead to “irreparable” failures on the station.