Placed in orbit in 1998, will the International Space Station (ISS) one day bow out after welcoming hundreds of astronauts from 19 different countries on board? The space laboratory could indeed crash into the Pacific Ocean by 2031 according to a program developed by NASA, explains TF1 Info.
An American space tugboat
The schedule established jointly by the US space agency and its European, Russian, Canadian and Japanese counterparts provides for a shutdown of the ISS by the end of the decade. NASA will soon launch a call for tenders to acquire a space tug capable of towing the 400 tons of the station. The latter will then be dropped over "Point Nemo", which is on our planet the furthest place from any earth. Its largest fragments will then end up in the Pacific Ocean.
With this new space tractor, NASA will be able to emancipate itself from Russian dependence while increasing its current deorbiting capabilities, explained executives of the agency quoted by the Space.com website. NASA will be able to "better help target the vehicle and return it safely," said Kathy Lueders, head of human spaceflight, at a press conference on Monday.
A Russian orbital station?
The Russians will not be sidelined, the US agency assured in a report submitted to Congress in January 2022. "NASA and its partners have evaluated different quantities of Russian Progress spacecraft and determined that three can accomplish the deorbiting" of the ISS, she detailed.
If Russia were to put an end to this collaboration in a context marked in particular by the war in Ukraine, NASA could however act alone thanks to its tugboat. As a reminder, the ISS is currently the last field of cooperation between Russia and the United States. In the summer of 2022, the Russian Space Agency had expressed the wish to create its own orbital station "after 2024".