The International Space Station launched in 1998 and since then it has served as an important research facility for multiple nations. The old ISS still has some good years left but space agencies are already planning for its demise.
The ISS is scheduled to be deorbited beginning in 2030. Considering it weighs nearly 1 million pounds, it’s a heavy task. As New Atlas points out, the ISS can’t simply be pushed to a higher orbit because it would take too much energy to do so and the process would likely cause the ISS to break apart. It’s also too large and complex to easily disassemble while still in orbit.
The preferred option is to let the ISS slowly return to Earth and burn up during deorbit. And NASA has now put out a request for proposals for a spacecraft that can help the ISS safely meet its fiery end.
The U.S. Deorbit Vehicle (USDV) will focus on the final phase of the ISS’s retirement. NASA said it will determine a safe approach for decommissioning the ISS through a combination of natural orbital decay and intentionally lowering the altitude of the station After that the agency will execute a re-entry maneuver designed to hit a remote location and minimize the scattering of debris. That’s where the USDV comes in.
NASA said it will need a new or modified spacecraft with a whole lot of propellant to pull off the final maneuver. The agency said it needs a resilient craft that can handle the critical deorbit burn. As with any new or modified spacecraft, NASA is anticipating years of design, development, testing and certification before the proposed USDV is ready to bring the ISS home.