NASA Awards SpaceX $843 Million to Deorbit International Space Station by 2030

NASA Awards SpaceX $843 Million to Deorbit International Space Station by 2030

NASA has contracted SpaceX to build a deorbit vehicle for the International Space Station, marking a significant step towards the station’s planned 2030 retirement. This move ensures the ISS can be safely deorbited without relying on Russia’s thrusters.

United States, Bollywood Fever: NASA awarded SpaceX $843 million to develop a vehicle capable of pushing the International Space Station (ISS) into Earth’s atmosphere for its planned destruction around 2030, a task originally designated for Russia’s thrusters.

Under the new NASA contract, SpaceX will build what the space agency has termed the U.S. Deorbit Vehicle. This vehicle will deorbit the space station and mitigate risks to populated areas. NASA will take ownership of the craft and manage the deorbiting operation.

The football field-sized research lab, primarily led by the United States and Russia, has been continuously staffed with government astronauts for approximately 24 years. However, due to its aging components, NASA and its international partners have set 2030 as the planned retirement date.

NASA Awards SpaceX $843 Million to Deorbit International Space Station by 2030

The United States, Japan, Canada, and the European Space Agency countries have committed to the space station partnership through 2030. Russia has agreed to remain a partner until 2028, the date by which the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, believes its hardware can last.

Despite geopolitical tensions on Earth, including Russia’s war in Ukraine that has severed nearly all other cooperative ties with the Western world, the scientific cooperation aboard the ISS has endured. The station orbits some 250 miles above Earth and relies on a technical interdependency where Russian thrusters maintain its orbital altitude and U.S. solar arrays power its systems.

Originally, Russian thrusters were meant to push the ISS into Earth’s atmosphere at the end of its life. However, in recent years, NASA has sought its own deorbit capabilities to ensure the station’s safe descent should Russia exit the alliance prematurely or be unable to perform the task.

The U.S. deorbit plan has been expedited in recent years as the White House and other government entities urged NASA to prepare contingency plans amid deteriorating relations with Russia.

Post-2030, NASA has been funding the early development of privately built space stations in low-Earth orbit to maintain U.S. presence in the cosmic region. Companies like Airbus and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin are involved in these efforts.

While the market for private space stations remains uncertain, U.S. officials believe a commercial ISS replacement is essential to compete with China’s newer space station in low-Earth orbit.

Both NASA and China are racing to return humans to the moon. The U.S. space agency is investing billions of dollars and partnering with several countries and companies, including SpaceX, to achieve the first human moon landing since 1972.

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