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posted by mrpg on Friday January 12 2018, @05:45AM   Printer-friendly
from the backups-in-space dept.

Although Russia has plans to detach some of its modules from the International Space Station (ISS) in order to form the basis of a new space station, the majority of the ISS may be deorbited as soon as 2024 or 2028:

Over the course of six missions, the British-born Nasa astronaut has spent more than a year in space. Foale has flown in the Space Shuttle and the Russian Soyuz, lived on the Mir space station and commanded the International Space Station (ISS). He’s carried out four space walks, totalling almost 23 hours outside in both Russian and American spacesuits. These included an epic eight-hour spacewalk to upgrade the computer on the Hubble Space Telescope.

[...] A joint enterprise between the US, Russia, the European Space Agency (Esa), Japan and Canada, the ISS has now been continuously occupied since 2000. And, over that time, has increasingly come to justify its $100bn (£75bn) cost. [...] But the station's days are numbered. Funding by the various space agencies involved is only agreed until 2024. This means in just six years' time, the most expensive structure ever built will be pushed out of orbit by a Progress spacecraft to disintegrate over the Pacific. And the countdown clock is ticking. "Year by year, Russia is launching the fuel to fill up the tanks of the ISS service module to enable the space station to be deorbited," says Foale. "That's the current plan – I think it's a bad plan, a massive waste of a fantastic resource."

[...] Since leaving Nasa, Foale has been working in the private sector on new aviation technologies and believes commercial operators could step-in to secure the future of the ISS. "I'm hoping that commercial space can come up with a business plan that allows part of the ISS to be maintained in space, without sinking it into the Pacific Ocean," he says. "You have to come up with innovative ways of keeping it in space." The ISS already supports some commercial operations. A private company, NanoRacks, operates experiments in equipment racks on the station for private clients. The station is increasingly also being used to launch small satellites into orbit, carried up in commercial spacecraft such as SpaceX's Dragon robotic supply ship. The Russian space agency takes tourists to the station and has even suggested it might build a hotel module.

[...] In the meantime, Foale is formulating his campaign to save the ISS and says he plans to launch websites to gather support to help save the space station. He says he intends to keep pressure on the space agencies to continue to fund the programme. "Every engineer, manager, astronaut or cosmonaut who's worked on the ISS, we all think the space station is such an achievement on behalf of humanity that it should continue," he says. "I'm still giving Nasa a chance to tell me how they're going to do it."

But, unless the private sector steps in, Foale fears that in 2024 the space agencies – and the politicians that fund them – will end up destroying one of the world's greatest engineering accomplishments, not to mention a massive economic investment by millions of taxpayers around the world.

Save it, send it to the Moon, or burn it?


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  • (Score: 2) by All Your Lawn Are Belong To Us on Friday January 12 2018, @03:56PM (3 children)

    by All Your Lawn Are Belong To Us (6553) on Friday January 12 2018, @03:56PM (#621409)

    Last I knew, it's still impossible to keep something absolutely and perfectly on station though one can get hyper-close. Everything from solar weather to the Earth's magnetospheric activity can affect it a little bit. (I'm happy to be told I'm wrong about that... but I don't think I am).

    The thing that nobody wants to happen is someday it becomes a problem that must be addressed because it's no longer maneuverable and its orbit decays; with an object of that mass I'd think there'd be some risk for uncontrolled deorbiting of it. Not if it can be safely deorbited under control and end of mission life.

    Then you have the "Gravity" problem [soylentnews.org] - the movie seemed unrealistic but the object would sit there just waiting for something else to slam into it and cause a greater debris field. We already have enough Space Junk in orbit. And components do age and expire - even physical structures.

    None of which isn't to say that if elements can be reasonably recycled (the Russians seem to have plans along that line) it shouldn't be left there. It's not a bad idea - William Gibson had a short story in Burning Chrome about people living in orbit on derelicts... But unless some definable purpose exists for it I'd think it is best it is brought down safely.

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  • (Score: 2) by All Your Lawn Are Belong To Us on Friday January 12 2018, @03:59PM

    by All Your Lawn Are Belong To Us (6553) on Friday January 12 2018, @03:59PM (#621411)

    Crap... links got blown all to hell. "Gravity" problem was supposed to reroute to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kessler_syndrome [wikipedia.org] and Space Junk was supposed to go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_debris [wikipedia.org] - sorry!

  • (Score: 2) by frojack on Friday January 12 2018, @08:37PM (1 child)

    by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Friday January 12 2018, @08:37PM (#621545) Journal

    The thing that nobody wants to happen is someday it becomes a problem that must be addressed because it's no longer maneuverable and its orbit decays; with an object of that mass I'd think there'd be some risk for uncontrolled deorbiting of it. Not if it can be safely deorbited under control and end of mission life.

    I don't think that's the problem mos people are worried about.

    There are many docking locations on ISS and, and even un-manned modules are able to dock, latch and boost the station.

    Further, its orbit is so low that without constant boosting, high atmospheric drag will bring it (or the remaining pieces) down eventually. I suspect, you could disassemble it where is it is, deorbit the bigger chunks into the oceans, and let gravity take its course.

    What people worry about is an orderly station abandonment in an emergency. Having life boat capsules available won't help in the case of structural failure and collapse.

    --
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