NASA may use a ‘space tug’ to decommission the space station

NASA has set its sights on developing a unique spacecraft with the ability to skillfully guide the International Space Station to a secure deorbit location upon its scheduled decommissioning in 2030.

The specifics of this strategy were recently unveiled as part of the White House’s budget proposal for the year 2024.

Within the suggested $27.2 billion allotment for NASA, there is a provision of $180 million earmarked for the initiation of a project referred to as a “space tug.” This innovative spacecraft is intended to oversee the secure incineration of the station during its atmospheric reentry in seven years, as reported by Space.com.

Nevertheless, the eventual expense for the completion of the “space tug” could potentially approach nearly $1 billion, as indicated by remarks from Kathy Lueders, the head of NASA’s human spaceflight program, on Monday.

In the current scenario, the International Space Station (ISS) could potentially be directed towards deorbiting by utilizing a docked Russian Progress cargo vehicle, employing a series of controlled engine burns to adjust the station’s trajectory. However, as reported by SpaceNews, NASA has determined that “additional spacecraft may offer more robust deorbit capabilities,” leading the agency to explore the concept of a specially designed space tug.

Introduced into operational service two decades ago, the space station was established as a habitation for astronauts to reside and conduct scientific investigations under microgravity conditions. Nevertheless, due to its advancing age in terms of design, the facility, situated in orbit approximately 250 miles above Earth, is anticipated to undergo disintegration in the coming years.

With an impressive length exceeding 100 meters, a meticulous approach is imperative during the decommissioning of the space station. To illustrate, it must be skillfully navigated to steer clear of operational satellites and any substantial fragments of space debris before being guided onto a trajectory that will culminate in a significant portion of the station burning up upon reentry over the Pacific Ocean. Yet, a portion of the debris is projected to descend into the sea at a location known as Point Nemo—an area far removed from terrestrial boundaries renowned as “the space cemetery,” often designated for the controlled descent of space debris.NASA has forged collaborations with private enterprises, striving to construct a successor station, as China has recently established its independent orbital outpost. In a similar vein, Russia has signaled its intent to establish a spaceborne laboratory within low-Earth orbit. Collectively, these initiatives guarantee the ongoing habitation and occupation of space by a limited number of individuals for the foreseeable future.

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