The International Space Station Will Fall to Earth: Where and Why?

The International Space Station (ISS), which celebrates its 25th anniversary in orbit this year, is the result of a unique collaboration between the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and Europe. Since its launch, it has already welcomed more than 240 astronauts and conducted more than 3,000 scientific experiments.

If the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment extends space station operations to 2030 (compared to the 2015 start), it won’t go any further. “The International Space Station is entering its third, most productive decade as an exciting microgravity science platform,” International Space Station Director Robin Gates said in a sobering NASA statement.

A controlled crash is scheduled for January 2031

Orbiting about 400 km above Earth, the ISS cannot remain in space indefinitely. In fact, it undergoes a slight atmospheric drag, which gradually reduces its height. To prevent it from spinning out of control and accidentally (and dangerously) returning to the planet, NASA planned to orbit it in a controlled fashion.

The plan is to separate the ISS modules that are not needed – or pose a contamination risk – and burn them in the atmosphere. It would cost a lot of money to bring all the intact elements back to Earth, and the remaining blocks would remain at a specific point called Point Nemo in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean, where they would decompress.

Location of Point Nemo © Google Maps

Located in the South Pacific Ocean, Point Nemo is an inaccessible sea pole, meaning the farthest point in the ocean from any exposed land. It has already served as a graveyard for space debris since 1971, as 260 objects crashed there, including the Mir station, which is nothing more than an ancestor of the ISS.

The planned date for termination of ISS is January 2031 Last report Published by NASA. This corresponds to a 15-year extension compared to the original planned period in 2015. NASA has decided to keep the ISS operational until 2030 to continue to benefit from its scientific and technological advantages at a reasonable cost.

How does decay occur?

On the NASA blog, you can find details about the orbiting and decommissioning process of the space station. First, “Earth’s natural atmospheric drag will be used as much as possible to lower the station’s altitude when implementing TRBIT”.

then, “Space station operators will perform a major re-entry burn” in an attempt to steer ISS components to the infamous Nemo Point. A companion ship capable of pushing the space station to full power must intervene.

As debris continues to enter the atmosphere, the outer skin of the blocks must melt, exposing the interior material to rapid heating and melting. According to the latter, “Environmental impacts from these debris are expected to be minimal in the predicted impact area.

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