The International Space Station has already exceeded its originally planned lifespan, with NASA confirming the date when the huge collection of modules deployed on a surface comparable to a football field will be lowered from Earth’s orbit and sent to the so-called spacecraft cemetery.
Published on NASA’s website, the International Space Station’s (ISS) final decommissioning plan involves controlled braking with low-powered thrusters, causing the orbital altitude to drop and eventually contact with the upper layers of the Earth’s atmosphere. Given the appreciable number and size of each ISS module, it would be unrealistic to believe that they will incinerate without contact with the atmosphere, the operation being designed to leave behind a vast collection of debris hopefully not very toxic, dangerous to humans only in the extent to which they fall on inhabited areas. Fortunately, such a scenario is relatively easy to avoid on a planet 70% ocean-covered. All NASA engineers have to do is make the moment of impact with the Earth’s atmosphere so that the debris falls as far away from any inhabited area as possible.
And that area, already known as the “spaceship cemetery,” exists and is known in marine terms as Point Nemo. In practice, the definition refers to the point in the ocean furthest from any inhabited land location, located in an area with very choppy waters and almost no life in the South Pacific Ocean.
The preparation will consist of lowering the ISS from its normal altitude of 406 kilometers, lower and lower, until the huge structure begins to be slowed down even more by the Earth’s atmosphere, causing it to fall rapidly from orbit.
Since its inauguration more than 20 years ago, the ISS has operated without major incidents, but the age of the facility is beginning to speak for itself, with at least one case already occurring in which fire alarms have been triggered by short circuits. and even a problem with depressurization, both reported in Russian ISS modules. But the ISS will certainly not be able to operate indefinitely, with NASA already setting a deadline for its retirement in 2030. The facility would remain in orbit until January 2031, when the mission would be completed by remotely initiating controlled de-orbit maneuvers.
Beyond 2030, the International Space Station will most likely be replaced by other privately funded, more cost-effective projects.