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The International Space Station is getting old: Can it stay in orbit longer?

The International Space Station is getting old: Can it stay in orbit longer?

The International Space Station is getting old. The US administration wants to continue operations until 2030, and it appears that the European Space Agency wants to follow suit. It is uncertain for Russia. And at the end of the decade, technical challenges will arise.

Construction on the orbit of the International Space Station (ISS) began in 1998. It has been inhabited by astronauts since 2000 on an ongoing basis. In low Earth orbit, the International Space Station operates on hardware that is more than 20 years old – for example, originally, until 2017, on-board computers were equipped with Windows XP (Now it is linux).

It was expected to last 10 to 15 years, but is now slowly approaching 30. Its story is coming to an end for technical reasons, but also because space is entering a new era. On what date can we estimate this ending?

Initially, the International Space Station was mandated to operate until 2024. But in 2018, a law was almost passed in the US Congress, aimed at delaying this end of service until the end of the decade – 2028 or 2030. Widely passed in the Senate, the The proposal was eventually rejected by the House of Representatives. Finally, in the transition to the new year 2022, NASA announced in the post It was published on December 31, 2021 that the White House has decided directly to extend the activities of the International Space Station until 2030.

The exit of astronauts from the International Space Station. // source: Pxhere / CC0 Public domain (cropped image)

Move to new satellite stations

« The continued participation of the United States in the International Space Station will promote innovation and Competitiveness, it will develop the research and technology needed to send the first woman and first elemental person to the moon under NASA’s Artemis program and pave the way for sending the first humans to Mars. ‘,” outlines the space agency’s press release.

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Artémis effectively aims to install a completely new space station, But in orbit around the moon. Addressed Moon Gate It will be an outpost to send people to.

In addition, there are other projects for new space stations. China launched build his own During 2021, which will end in 2022. Commercial terminals are also planned: one developed by Lockheed Martin (Starlab), The other is from Blue Origin (Orbital Reef), or else called axiom. In general, there is a movement of transition, from a station based on an intergovernmental partnership to projects from private actors – with which NASA establishes partnerships.

The International Space Station is getting old: Can it stay in orbit longer?
Orbital Reef models provided by the company. // Source: Blue Origin

The future of the International Space Station is still uncertain

Although the Biden-Harris administration has confirmed the willingness to continue operations of the International Space Station until 2030, a number of partners also need to follow up. in a Tweet UNESA Director General Josef Schbacher said: I congratulate this ad ” And ” Submit a proposal to ESA member states to continue its work until 2030 This proposal must be voted on.

From the Russian side, it’s even more ambiguous. The partnership is supposed to end at the end of 2024. The Russian agency Roscosmos has its own plans for the stations. What’s more, as noted space news, Director of Roscsomos, Dmitry Rogozin, has expressed doubts about the technical capabilities of the International Space Station to cling: “ The current agreement states that we will continue to operate it until 2024. It can of course continue to fly after 2024, but it will be difficult to manage every year after that. It was announced, referring to the risks of technical malfunctions.

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It’s the technical hurdle that may one day have to push NASA to abandon the use of the International Space Station. This is what I make clear, in 2018Bill Gerstenmeyer, former NASA Director of Human Exploration. We have a good operating life until at least 2028, maybe a little longer. We just have to keep track of the station. What we don’t want is to spend more time doing maintenance than research. At this point, the station’s utility will begin to decline. »

The International Space Station is getting old: Can it stay in orbit longer?
International Space Station // Source: NASA

When this technical obsolescence is beyond repair and all scientific (and thus commercial) eyes will be diverted to other stations, the International Space Station will have to be terminated. This means removing it from its orbit.

At the moment, NASA has not formulated a specific plan to unload the station, but it is working on it. ” NASA is actively working with all ISS partners on plans to safely dispose of the space station at the end of its lifespan. The agency denotes the specialized website Void.

Normally, whichever plan you choose exactly would mean letting the International Space Station disintegrate into the atmosphere – like Skylab – After the return of the astronauts and some basic equipment to Earth. This disintegration must be controlled to reduce the risk of space waste, and the path directed toward an uninhabited marine area.

See the world fromVoid