What goes up must come down and unfortunately the ISS is no exception, it is said that the station will continue to orbit until 2024
With its oldest module clocking in at 22 years and 10 months in orbit as of October 2021, it goes without saying that certain parts of the ISS have seen better days and it begs the question, how would we deorbit such a station?
Our famous space station was constructed beginning 1998. That first launch would be one of 42 which brought up important structural pieces of the station, and today the international space station is made up of different pressurized modules, 6 which are Russian, 8 U.S modules, 2 Japanese modules and one European module. These modules were individually constructed in space and their parts were brought up within separate launches. Costing 150 billion dollars to develop and construct NASA has poured much of their budget from day one into this extraordinary show of human strength.
Bringing undeniably powerful countries together into this project has allowed it to expand past the first years of development and it may still be on the drawing board without the support of multiple nations.
For now, the decision to deorbit or otherwise destroy the ISS is a grey area, its creation is a rare partnership between the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and other participating nations of the European Space Agency. The final decision to retire it will be political and unanimous among other things. Each country has a responsibility to their own module and thus the deorbiting or handling of the module after retirement or when it becomes unusable for habitation.
What we can see within the future of the International Space Station might seem grim, however certain countries are deciding to keep their pieces of the station in space to aid in the creation of other stations and NASA is interested in bringing other parts back to earth splashing them down in the Pacific Ocean but from what the space station has taught us within its short life span we can go forward into other programs and development projects to forward us beyond our own orbit.
One thing is for sure, it will come down eventually. NASA is committed to deorbiting it no matter what for disaster prevention, if it happens to deorbit upon retirement without a calculated plan it could fall upon a heavily populated area however with careful planning this risk could be reduced. If it is agreed certain pieces left over could be dropped into the Pacific Ocean where the closest humans are those aboard the international space station when it passes overhead.
Modules upon the space station were originally designed for a 15-year lifespan, today the ISS is operational and slated to operate until it’s 30th birthday in 2028 and even beyond that. A few private companies have drafted plans to take on certain parts of the ISS within their own missions and this seems likely if not the best path, supporting space travel and exploration was its original intention and continuing to do so into the future keeping the spirit of our station alive for many years to come.