NASA is paying Elon Musk's SpaceX $843 million for destroying the International Space Station

NASA has sought the help of astronautics company SpaceX to decommission the International Space Station (ISS) in 2030.

This photo provided by NASA shows the International Space Station from the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour while flying around the orbiting lab after undocking from the space-facing port of the Harmony module on Nov. 8, 2021. NASA has awarded SpaceX an $843 million contract to build the vehicle that will bring the International Space Station out of its long orbit around Earth when its operational lifetime ends in a few more years. (AP)

The agency announced Wednesday that it awarded Elon Musk's company an $843 million contract to build a “US Deorbit Vehicle.” As planned, SpaceX's spacecraft will carry the football-field-sized research lab back into our planet's atmosphere after the ISS retires later this decade.

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The so-called “deorbit vehicle” (USDV) will re-enter the ISS from orbit, thereby decommissioning it.

“Preparing to de-orbit the International Space Station in a controlled, safe and responsible manner is of the utmost importance,” NASA announced in a press release, with the goal of “avoiding hazards to populated areas.”

“At the end of the space station's useful life in 2030, NASA and its international partners will deorbit the station, and safely berth the spacecraft in a remote part of the ocean,” the agency revealed in its ISS Deorbit Analysis Summary.

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The ISS was built by the United States, Japan, Russia, Europe and Canada. Its first piece was launched in November 1998. There is no doubt that the space station, which would weigh about a million pounds on Earth, is getting old.

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NASA and its key partner, Roscosmos (the Russian state space corporation), are currently grappling with a serious problem of microscopic leaks on the ISS.

The agency also said that the originally designed parts of the space station's core, including crew living modules and truss structures providing electrical power, cooling, communications and other capabilities, were designed for a 30-year structural life in low Earth orbit.

However, the first pieces of the space station, the Functional Cargo Block “Zarya” (FGB) and Node 1 “Unity” will complete their 32-year life cycle in 2030. While other components were launched much later, the primary structure of the station practically cannot be repaired or replaced.

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On Wednesday, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration analyzed why it had decided to destroy the station. Before reaching its conclusion, the agency considered several other options, such as separating the ISS and returning to Earth or lifting it into a higher orbit with the help of a larger spacecraft. Therefore, de-orbiting the station at the end of its life is the “safest and only viable” way to decommission the longest-serving crew vehicle in space in human history.

Their study, published Wednesday, ultimately determined that destroying it upon reentry was the only economically or technically viable option. Ideas for extending the station’s lifetime beyond 2030 are still up in the air, with NASA awaiting agreement from its international partners.

Meanwhile, NASA plans to replace the ISS with privately built space stations.

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