NASA aims to build a special spacecraft capable of guiding the International Space Station to a safe de-orbit position when it is decommissioned in 2030.
Details of the plan were presented in recent days when the White House released its budget request for 2024.
The proposed $27.2 billion allocation for NASA includes $180 million to begin development of a so-called ‘space tug’ designed to ensure the station burns up safely when it enters the Earth’s atmosphere in seven years, Space.com reported.
However, the ultimate cost of the tug could reach nearly $1 billion, according to comments Monday from Kathy Lueders, head of NASA’s human spaceflight program.
As it stands, the ISS could be de-orbited by a docked Russian Progress cargo vehicle using a series of engine burns to alter the station’s course. But according to SpaceNewsNASA concluded that “additional spacecraft could provide more robust deorbit capabilities,” prompting the agency to explore the idea of a purpose-built space tug.
The space station was commissioned two decades ago as a place where astronauts live and work, performing scientific experiments in microgravity conditions. But its aging design means the facility, which orbits 250 miles above Earth, will be destroyed within a few years.
At more than 100 meters end to end, great care will have to be taken when dismantling the space station. For example, it must be maneuvered away from operating satellites and any large space junk before being placed on a trajectory that will carry much of it away. burning above the Pacific Ocean. However, part of it is expected to dive into the sea at Point Nemo, a place far removed from earth known as the “graveyard of space” because it’s often targeted for controlled descents of space junk.
NASA is teaming up with private companies to build a replacement station, while China recently set up its own orbital facility. Russia has also expressed interest in building its own space lab in low Earth orbit, with all of these projects ensuring that humans – albeit few – will continue to live and work in space for years to come.