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NASA Awards SpaceX $843M Contract to Decommission ISS

NASA has awarded SpaceX an $843 million contract to oversee the intentional decommissioning of the International Space Station (ISS) after its planned retirement in 2030.

Announced on Wednesday, NASA has enlisted Elon Musk's SpaceX to lead the effort with the creation of the "US Deorbit Vehicle" (USDV). This spacecraft will be tasked with guiding the football-field-sized ISS back into Earth's atmosphere following its operational lifespan later this decade.

The purpose of the USDV is to safely and responsibly deorbit the ISS in a controlled manner, minimizing risks to populated areas. NASA emphasized this in a press release, highlighting the importance of ensuring the space station's safe disposal.

"At the end of the ISS's useful life in 2030, NASA and its international partners will deorbit the station, safely disposing of it into a remote part of the ocean," NASA stated in its ISS Deorbit Analysis Summary.

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Assembled by the United States, Japan, Russia, Europe, and Canada, the ISS has been in orbit since the launch of its first module in November 1998. Weighing nearly a million pounds on Earth, the station has reached an age where maintaining its integrity and functionality is becoming increasingly challenging.

NASA and Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, have been dealing with issues such as microscopic leaks and aging infrastructure. Components like the Functional Cargo Block "Zarya" and Node 1 "Unity" were originally designed for a 30-year lifespan in low Earth orbit, which will conclude in 2030. Attempts to repair or replace these core elements are not feasible due to their structural integration within the ISS.

In its analysis, NASA considered various options for the ISS's retirement, including disassembly and return to Earth or boosting it to a higher orbit. However, deorbiting the station was deemed the safest and most viable method, considering technical and economic factors.

NASA's decision to decommission the ISS comes with implications for future space exploration plans. While discussions on extending the station's life beyond 2030 continue among international partners, NASA is already planning to transition to privately built space stations to succeed the ISS.

This strategic move marks the end of an era for the ISS, paving the way for new advancements in space research and exploration under evolving public-private partnerships in the space sector.

June 29, 2024 5:02 p.m. 418

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