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SpaceX Is Building a Spacecraft to Destroy the International Space Station—at NASA’s Request

  • NASA has asked SpaceX to develop a vehicle to help de-orbit the ISS in 2030.

  • The ISS, which has been operated by five space agencies since 1998, is experiencing material fatigue.

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NASA has chosen SpaceX to complete the noble task of destroying the International Space Station (ISS), one of the biggest collaborative efforts among several countries in history.

A deorbit vehicle. The task involves developing and delivering a space vehicle to NASA so that the agency can safely de-orbit the ISS at the end of its operational life in 2030.

SpaceX will receive a one-time payment of $843 million from NASA for the project. Once the vehicle is in orbit, the space agency will take over its operations. Additionally, SpaceX is expected to receive a future contract to launch the new spacecraft.

End-of-life support for the ISS. NASA will use the spacecraft developed by SpaceX to guide the ISS to a remote location away from populated areas for its safe re-entry into the atmosphere.

NASA anticipates that most of the ISS and the deorbit vehicle will disintegrate upon re-entry over the Pacific Ocean.

In orbit for more than 30 years. Launched in November 1998, the ISS serves as a microgravity laboratory operated by five space agencies.

NASA, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the European Space Agency (ESA), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and the Russian State Corporation for Space Activities (Roscosmos) currently operate the ISS.

Russia has committed to operating the Space Station until at least 2028, while the U.S., Japan, Canada, and ESA countries are committed to operating it until 2030.

Life after the ISS. The ISS is showing signs of wear and tear, including cracks in the Russian segment, which indicates that its useful life is coming to an end.

NASA considered moving the Space Station to a higher orbit for safety reasons, but this was ruled out due to the potential damage to its aging structures.

Even if this wasn't the case, other reasons to consider discontinuing the ISS include increasing space junk and high maintenance costs.

Moreover, plans for commercial space stations are underway, allowing space agencies to focus on manned missions beyond low Earth orbit, such as the Artemis program and future trips to Mars.

Image | NASA

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