ISS: NASA prepares for the space station's final journey


ISS: NASA prepares for the space station's final journey

ISS. NASA, which is gradually planning the end of the space station, has decided that it does not want to depend on Russia for this maneuver. It is currently developing a tug capable of accompanying the ISS on its final journey.

The ISS has been welcoming astronauts for over 22 years now. While its mission was initially to last 15 years renewable up to 30, the highest laboratory in the world is about to bow out. A place of scientific experiments and Earth observation, the international space station has seen more than 250 astronauts pass through its modules. Studying the effects of weightlessness on the human body, growing plants in space or even experiments on particle physics, the ISS advances science in various fields. Today, the structure is gradually weakening and beginning to show signs of weakness.

NASA begins to predict the end of service of the space station and its future de-orbiting. The operation, which is scheduled to take place in January 2031, is expected to be carried out using three Russian freighters and a backup American freighter. However, communication between the USA and Russia not being in good shape and the Russian space agency having decided to leave the ISS adventure very soon, NASA has just announced that it prefers to set up a plan B in order to be able to carry out this maneuver itself if Roscosmos were to let it down.

Planned by NASA for January 2031, the end of life of the ISS will be organized in different stages. The space station will first be emptied of its occupants and instruments that can be reused will be recovered. Then the structure will be towed by three Russian Progress ships and an American backup ship: the Cygnus.

In March 2023, NASA revealed that it was working on an alternative solution that would allow it to dispense with Russia's services in the event that the latter dissociates itself from the project. The development of such a space tug could cost a billion dollars, reports the Futura Sciences site.

The space station will be placed by its tug on a trajectory that will take it down to Earth for one last big dive. It should then disintegrate while crossing the atmosphere and its debris will fall into the Pacific Ocean in a very specific area called Nemo point. This is the furthest point in the ocean from any land surface that also serves as a graveyard for space equipment.

The ISS, the International Space Station, is a station that orbits the Earth. Commissioned in 1998, this is a project in which various space agencies have participated, including NASA, ESA, which represents Europe, but also Russia, Japan and Canada. This structure is constantly occupied by astronauts carrying out scientific research. It is now the only orbital station in operation with China's Tiangong space station completed in November 2022.

For several decades, the ambition to see humans stay in space grew and was the subject of several projects, some of which were successful. This is how the Skylab station designed by NASA was born and placed in orbit in May 1973. The station remained in operation for six years and was de-orbited in 1979. The Soviet Union, which had already carried out numerous space station tests with the Salyut program in the 1970s, also placed the MIR station in orbit, which entered service in February 1986. It was finally deorbited in March 2001.

The International Space Station takes over from the MIR station and is the first space station created by a collaboration of several nations. 16 countries thus participated in the creation of the ISS. These are Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Belgium, Brazil, Holland, Russia, Spain, Sweden , Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. The assembly of the ISS began in 1998 and the first astronauts were welcomed in 2000. However, the International Space Station is made up of a multitude of modules which were transported one by one and it took fifteen years to arrive to its final configuration. Subsequently, other elements were added such as the Russian-funded Nauka laboratory as well as the European robotic arm, both installed in July 2021.

Launched in 1998, the International Space Station welcomed its first crew in 2000. Permanently occupied since that day by astronauts of several nationalities, the ISS is above all an international laboratory. The research carried out there covers a variety of subjects such as biology, physics, plant or human physiology. But the International Space Station also benefits from an unparalleled view of our planet. Earth observation work is thus carried out there. "Observations of glaciers, farmland, cities and coral reefs complement satellite data, and thus allow us to paint a complete portrait of our planet", explains CNES on its website.

To carry out this research, teams of astronauts have been taking turns for more than 20 years by performing rotations. Each team of astronauts, often made up of members of different nationalities, generally stays on board the station for 6 months.

The ISS is between 360 and 400 kilometers from Earth. This means that it evolves below telecommunications satellites, but above the Earth's atmosphere. It is therefore placed in "low orbit". Every day, the ISS circles our planet 16 times.

To know the position of the ISS in real time, the European Space Agency (ESA) provides an interactive map that allows you to follow the movement of the station around the globe.

The ISS moves at a speed of 28,000 kilometers per hour. At this pace, it would take barely half an hour to cover the 14,830 kilometers that separate Paris from Tokyo. This extremely high speed allows the space station to stay in orbit around the Earth without falling on it: this is called orbital speed.

With its 108 meters long, 73 meters wide for a total of more than 400 tons, the ISS is the largest object created by man evolving in orbit around the Earth. To supply all of its systems with electricity, it has solar panels with an area of ​​2,500m² in total placed on either side of the station. In volume, the ISS has 900 m3 of space, of which around 400 are habitable.

The International Space Station is made up of several modules with different functions. Some of them are pressurized and allow occupants to live and work without spacesuits. These are the modules in which astronauts evolve on a daily basis. Other modules are not pressurized and correspond to technical and storage spaces.

The ISS thus has several modules provided by different countries. It therefore includes several laboratories, including a European named Columbus, an American laboratory, another Japanese as well as a Russian laboratory which arrived in 2021. Many experiments are carried out in these laboratories and relate to a wide variety of topics such as the physics of materials, plant physiology or human biology.

To rest and isolate themselves, the astronauts each have an individual cabin. The latter are arranged on either side of the modules and include a sleeping bag secured to the wall as well as storage space for personal belongings. A kitchen area is also installed and allows occupants to prepare their meals and store food rations. Other modules make it possible to store resources and equipment or even waste that must be regularly brought back to Earth. The ISS is also equipped with docking modules to which the shuttles that bring new astronauts are attached.

The main problem of life on the ISS is the absence of gravity. Without Earth pull, astronauts' muscles work less and become weaker, which can be dangerous when they return to Earth. It is therefore essential for astronauts to practice two hours of physical exercise a day. For this, they have sports equipment that allows them to overcome this problem.

Portholes are provided at various locations on the ISS, providing a view of the outside of the station to its occupants. Among these windows into space, the largest and best known is the Italian-funded cupola, which offers a spectacular panorama of Earth.

The ISS is the result of collaborative work between 16 countries including the United States, Japan, Canada, Russia, Brazil and 11 European countries including France. Today it is managed by five space agencies: NASA, ESA, JAXA, ASC and Roscosmos.