What will happen after the International Space Station is decommissioned?

What will happen after the International Space Station is decommissioned?

In less than three years many contracts between NASA and its international partners will expire for the maintenance of the ISS in orbit and for some time we have been thinking about the after: here are the hypotheses and plans

(Image: Nasa) The construction of the International Space Station began in 1998, with the launch on November 20, and has never really finished: in its more than 8 thousand days in orbit, the station has been gradually expanded, modified, reassembled. It has hosted hundreds of astronauts from 19 different nations, and there have been dozens of experiments in microgravity that have significantly improved our knowledge in the fields of biology, climate change, geology and many other branches of science, as well as, of course, astronomy, astrophysics and space exploration.

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end sooner or later. And it seems that the time to say goodbye to the International Space Station (ISS) forever is getting closer. As time passes, the station continues to slowly move out of its programmed orbit, and requires more and more frequent trajectory adjustments: most of the fuel coming from Earth is actually used for this purpose. Furthermore, the station is constantly threatened by micro meteorites and space debris and, according to the laws of probability, it is only a matter of time before one of these impacts is fatal.

The plans of the United States

There is more. Formally in 2024 many of the contracts between NASA and its international partners for the maintenance of the station will expire. In this regard, the scenarios that can be opened are very different. In a press conference last August, Bill Nelson, an administrator of the US space agency, said he wanted to extend the contracts until at least 2030. "We expect the Space Station to continue to be a government project throughout this decade - he said - and we hope that in the future it will be joined by other private stations as well".

The reality, however, at the moment is another: the US Congress, in fact, has not approved any request for funding beyond 2024, and there is still no approval from Canada, Russia, Europe and Japan. Josef Aschbacher, director of the European Space Agency, and Walther Pelzer, director of the German Space Agency, said they were in favor of extending the life of the International Space Station.

Others, even within NASA itself, are instead of a completely different orientation. Phil McAlister, for example, director of commercial flight development for the US agency, said he was convinced that this is "the right time to start detaching ourselves from the International Space Station, which now represents the state's monopoly on missions. space, and to look more at the private sector: for NASA it is time to focus on other objectives, such as the exploration of deep space, the return to the Moon and the human exploration of Mars, and to leave the contract to private entrepreneurs of Earth's orbit ”.

Assisting individuals

Indeed, in recent years, NASA has done a lot to increase private interest in the Space Station. In 2019, for example, the agency tried to place the ISS on the Nasdaq and the administration of then US President Donald Trump hinted at the possibility of subcontracting the management of the station to a private operator.

The The logic behind these operations is simple: in the plans of the US space agency there is an explicit desire to build a base on the Moon and to bring astronauts to Mars, a goal that is not easy if a fifth of one's budget must be allocated to keep the International space station.

Something in this direction has been moving for some time: NASA's most ambitious project envisages the construction and launch of the Lunar Gateway, a new space station which, however, should orbit around the Moon. It is designed together with Roscosmos, Esa and Jaxa and, in the intentions of the builders, it will be used as a base for missions to the Moon and Mars. The launch of the first module, weighing 50 tons, is scheduled for 2024; the other main components should follow shortly, including a robotic arm, the habitat for the crew and the airlock.

Axiom in pole position

Returning further down, on the he earth orbit, one of the most eligible private partners is Axiom Space, a company born with the aim of bringing the first entirely private space station into orbit. In early 2020, NASA allowed Axiom to dock one of its modules at the International Space Station. The company plans to launch it by 2024 and then continue construction directly in space.

In addition to a crew accommodation module, Axiom intends to send at least two others into orbit, an aboratory / workshop and a panoramic observatory similar to the ISS dome. The company plans to leave these three modules docked at the International Space Station until it is decommissioned (which, according to Michael Suffredini, co-founder and CEO of Axiom, will take place no later than 2028). When NASA decides to pull the plug, the Axiom modules will separate from the ISS and will become the de facto first private space station ever sent into orbit.

The design of the Axiom station, seen from the outside, is very similar to that of the International Space Station. The modules are cylindrical, measure about 15 meters in diameter and are connected to the station as if they were huge Legos. They will be built, apparently by Thales Alenia Space, a European company that has built many of the modules of the International Space Station. There is more: Axiom, in fact, is also considering the possibility of using inflatable modules similar to TransHab, a concept developed by NASA in the nineties but never realized due to the refusal to approve the project by Congress.

Space tourism

Who will use the Axiom space station, if it were actually to be built? Suffredini's sights are first of all space tourists, for whom less austere (and probably more expensive) hospitality solutions are thought of than those offered by the ISS, but also the other government and private space agencies, which could make a "base ”On the Axiom station to conduct tests and experiments and launch new missions. On the other hand, the B330 project, the idea of ​​an inflatable space habitat (the number 330 refers to the cubic meters of available space) designed by Bigelow Aerospace, seems to have been definitively wrecked. In 2016 a test module was launched, which remained docked to the ISS for about two years, but the real idea never took off (sic).

In addition to thinking about the successors of the ISS of course, there is also the problem of its “disposal”. It is unthinkable to abandon the station to its fate, since an uncontrolled descent into the Earth's atmosphere would be too risky and could lead to accidents on the ground. The most viable option, at the moment, seems to be that of a controlled descent along a trajectory that ends in the South Pacific, one of the least populated regions on the planet. We'll see.

Health - 11 Sep

20 years after the attack on Twin Towers still have health consequences for rescuers and survivors

September 11th, the titles to watch in streaming to keep the memory alive

No hosting service wants to host the Texan site to denounce abortionists


Space events Nasa Space United States International space station globalData. fldTopic = "Space events, NASA, Space, United States, International Space Station"

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Powered by Blogger.