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SpaceX Wins $843-Million NASA Contract to Destroy the International Space Station

NASA has awarded SpaceX an $843 million contract to construct a spacecraft aimed at safely deorbiting the International Space Station (ISS) by around 2030. While SpaceX will build the vehicle, NASA will oversee its operation and take ownership of the craft once completed.

The space agency report

According to the space agency’s plans, SpaceX’s specially designed deorbit vehicle will drag the football field-size ISS back to Earth sometime after the end of its operational life in 2030. The ISS will smash into our planet’s atmosphere at a speed of more than 17,000 mph (27,500 km/h) before landing in a crashdown spot in the ocean.

The floating laboratory’s first parts were launched in 1998, and it has been occupied by astronauts from the U.S., Japan, Russia, Canada and Europe since 2000, who have completed more than 3,300 scientific experiments in a close orbit above Earth. But the space station is showing its age: technical faults and leaks continue to cause issues for crews, and the contracts between the five participating national space agencies, which marked an era of global cooperation in space following the end of the Cold War, will end by 2030.

ISS Deorbiting Mission

Weighing approximately 430,000 kilograms (950,000 pounds), the ISS stands as the largest structure ever constructed in space, symbolizing a collaborative effort among the United States, Europe, Japan, Canada, and Russia since its inception in 2000. While the US and its partners plan to maintain operations until 2030, Russia’s commitment extends only until 2028.

Growing problem of space junk

The ISS also faces risks from the growing problem of space junk – orbital debris made of other defunct satellites, whipping around Earth at high speeds. On June 27, nine astronauts aboard the ISS were forced to take shelter in the docked Boeing Starliner crew capsule after hundreds of pieces of debris from a shattered Russian satellite threatened the space station’s safety. The crew were allowed to return to the ISS after about an hour, and operations continued as normal. But it’s still unclear exactly when the space station will be brought crashing back to Earth. These include Axiom Space’s Axiom Station, and the Orbital Reef designed by Blue Origin and Sierra Space. Both stations are slated to come online by the end of this decade.

Responsibility of all five space agencies

When the ISS is ready to be destroyed, it is also unclear how much other space agencies will shoulder the burden. NASA said in its statement that “the safe deorbit of the International Space Station is the responsibility of all five space agencies,” but the extent of their financial or technical involvement in SpaceX’s drag-and-dump is unspecified. The ISS’s fiery descent won’t be the first performed by a decommissioned space station. In 2001, Russia’s Mir space station was sent plummeting back to Earth, and its surviving fragments were swallowed by the Pacific Ocean.


SpaceX Wins $843-Million NASA Contract to Destroy the International Space Station_4.1