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SpaceX Partners with NASA to Decommission ISS by 2030, Musk Announces

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Washington: NASA announced on Tuesday that SpaceX has been chosen to develop a vessel, known as the US Deorbit Vehicle, to safely bring down the International Space Station (ISS) by 2030. The decision comes as part of NASA's plan to ensure a secure and responsible transition for the ISS as it nears the end of its operational life in low Earth orbit.

Elon Musk's SpaceX secured the contract valued at up to $843 million to build and deliver the US Deorbit Vehicle, which will play a crucial role in guiding the ISS through Earth's atmosphere to a final resting place in the Pacific Ocean. "Selecting a US Deorbit Vehicle for the International Space Station will help NASA and its international partners ensure a safe and responsible transition in low Earth orbit at the end of station operations," stated NASA's Ken Bowersox.

With a staggering weight of 430,000 kilograms (950,000 pounds), the ISS stands as the largest single structure ever constructed in space. Engineers anticipate the station's disintegration during atmospheric re-entry to occur in stages: first, solar arrays and radiators will detach, followed by individual modules separating from the truss, the station's backbone structure. Ultimately, both the truss and modules will break apart.

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While much of the material will vaporize upon re-entry, significant pieces are expected to survive. Hence, NASA has identified Point Nemo in the Pacific Ocean, renowned as a spacecraft graveyard due to its remoteness, as the designated splashdown area.

Originally launched in 1998, the ISS has hosted an international crew continuously since 2001, representing collaboration among the US, Japan, Canada, the European Space Agency (ESA), and Russia. However, Russia has committed only until 2028, while the other partners aim to maintain operations through 2030.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson emphasized the importance of ensuring a safe deorbit process amidst strained US-Russia relations, highlighting the need to prevent any risks to terrestrial assets. Meanwhile, multiple companies, including Axiom Space and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, are pursuing commercial successors to the ISS, marking a new chapter in human space exploration beyond the venerable orbital laboratory.

June 27, 2024 10:15 a.m. 389

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