Better book your space holiday fast if you were hoping to spend a romantic weekend at the International Space Station. After 2020, when the ISS is decommissioned, it will be purposefully dumped into the ocean so as to avoid becoming another piece of potentially dangerous “space trash.” Such a chunk of abandoned detritus almost collided with the ISS itself last month, forcing crew to pre-emptively climb aboard their escape craft.
“Right now we’ve agreed with our partners that the station will be used until approximately 202 … After it completes its existence, we will be forced to sink the ISS. It cannot be left in orbit, it’s too complex, too heavy an object, it can leave behind lots of rubbish” Vitaly Davydov, deputy chief, Roskosmos space agency
Nonetheless, while it may not be as romantic as leaving the ISS to gently decay in orbit, or indeed fire it off into the coldness of deep space, the station’s looming 2020 demise still marks a longer lifespan than was originally intended. Russia and its partners first planned for the ISS to remain operational for 15 years after its 1998 launch, but that was recently extended.
Actually getting astronauts to the ISS has become somewhat more complex, at least for NASA, with the decommissioning of the Space Shuttle. Atlantis flew its final mission earlier this month, STS-135, ending 26 years of the shuttle’s flight. Part of that mission had included transporting repair equipment and supplies up to the ISS.