Science & Tech

Why is NASA paying SpaceX to destroy the International Space Station?

Why is NASA paying SpaceX to destroy the International Space Station?
SpaceX wins contract to bring International Space Station out of orbit in …
Scripps News / VideoElephant

The International Space Station (ISS) has been a home to astronauts for more than two decades and yet, its time is drawing to a close.

The iconic spacecraft will soon be destroyed, and NASA is paying Elon Musk hundreds of millions of dollars to get the job done.

The space agency has reportedly awarded Musk’s company SpaceX a contract worth up to $843 million (around £665 million) to push the iconic station out of orbit and send it (safely) crashing back down to Earth.

A specially designed SpaceX deorbit vehicle will drag the ISS back to Earth at some point after its operational life ends in 2030, according to NASA’s plans.

The football field-size craft will then hurtle into our planet's atmosphere at a speed of more than 17,000 miles per hour (27,500 kilometres per hour) before “landing” in a crashdown spot in the ocean.

Dismantling the iconic space station "supports NASA's plans for future commercial destinations and allows for the continued use of space near Earth," Ken Bowersox, NASA's associate administrator for Space Operations Mission Directorate, said in a statement.

The ISS has been welcoming astronauts since the year 2000(Getty Images)

More than 270 astronauts have visited the ISS over the course of its 25 years in orbit.

Its construction was completed thanks to a collaborative effort between the US, Canada, Japan and Europe beginning in the late 1980s, with the added participation of Russia in 1993.

Since 2000, when the first astronaut and cosmonauts moved into the station – as part of a three-day mission – more than 3,300 experiments have been conducted in its floating lab.

And yet, despite its many accomplishments, the ISS is showing its age: technical faults and leaks continue to cause problems for crews, and the contracts between the five participating national space agencies — which marked an era of global cooperation in space following the end of the Cold War — will end by 2030, as Live Sciencenotes.

The first astronaut and cosmonauts (wearing the blue and grey suits) arrived on the ISS in November 2000(NASA/Getty Images)

Nevertheless, the date on which the space station will be sent crashing back to earth hasn’t yet been confirmed, with NASA currently committed to continuing operations until the end of this decade.

“There's nothing magical that happens in 2030," Steve Stich, manager of NASA's commercial crew program at Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, said at a news conference back in January.

He added that the ISS will likely continue its work until the commercial space stations slated to replace it come online. These include Axiom Space's Axiom Station, and the Orbital Reef designed by Blue Origin and Sierra Space – with both set for launch by the end of this decade.

Furthermore, when the time does come for the ISS to be destroyed, it’s unclear how the burden will be shared among its founders.

NASA said in its statement that "the safe deorbit of the International Space Station is the responsibility of all five space agencies," but the extent of their financial or technical involvement in SpaceX's operation is unspecified.

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