The exit from the orbit of the International Space Station is being prepared – Franceinfo

NASA has launched a call for manufacturers to build a ship to dismantle the space station. Dismantling is planned for 2030. It has long been known that this huge orbiting structure will be difficult to remove from orbit. A risky operation.

Mathilde Fontez, editor-in-chief of the science magazine Epsiloon, tells us today that NASA has just published a call for proposals for a spacecraft to leave the International Space Station, built in 1998.

franceinfo: What kind of spacecraft are we talking about?

Mathilde Fontez: The ship is called the “US Deorbit Vehicle”. The technical documents were published on September 18th. And manufacturers have until November 17th to apply for construction by 2030. This ship will attach itself to the station, the ISS, giving it the necessary impetus to gradually lower its orbit until it enters the atmosphere and burns up under the effect of velocity.

So the end of the ISS has really been decided…

All countries participating in this space adventure agree, yes: Europe, Canada, Japan, Russia and NASA have each committed to 2030, not beyond – 2028 for Russia. This time it’s probably the end.

There have already been many postponements. The station is getting old – it was originally planned to last 15 years. Construction began in 1998. And it is very expensive: around $150 billion in total. NASA is already trying to cut costs by renting it for commercial research or tourism activities – for example, this Hollywood film starring Tom Cruise that was supposed to be shot partly in orbit.

Deorbiting such a machine shouldn’t be so obvious…

Yes, it is definitely a risky operation. This station is a monstrous machine: it is the size of an American football field: 109 meters long; it weighs 450 tons. Even at high speeds, it will not completely decay in the atmosphere. There will be rubble, it must not fall on a populated area!

Has the drop-off point been determined?

Yes, this is Spot Nemo: the graveyard of space debris. It is a place in the Pacific Ocean that is considered the furthest from any civilization, 2,700 kilometers from any land – the people closest to this place are the astronauts of the station, which from time to time are 400 kilometers away fly past him. Targeting Point Nemo will be a real challenge given the dynamics of the massive debris trail the station was expected to create when it collapsed.

Will other agencies take part in this operation?

The first deorbit plan relied heavily on the Russians, as it called for the use of three of their Progress cargo ships. But today’s call for tenders from NASA shows the American agency’s desire to secure operations. The war in Ukraine did not stop cooperation in the ISS, but it strained relations. The United States therefore decided that it was better to be autonomous.