NASA reveals new timeline for ISS before it crashes into ocean in 2031

7 Feb 2022

Image: © dimazel/

With the ISS set to crash into the Pacific Ocean in 2031, NASA is working with private sectors companies to develop commercial destinations in space.

NASA has announced a new timeline for the International Space Station (ISS), with a list of goals for its third decade of operational use before it’s decommissioned in 2031.

For the next nine years, the ISS has five major goals before it begins a controlled crash into the Pacific Ocean. These goals are enabling deep space exploration, conducting research to benefit humanity, fostering a US commercial space industry, enabling international collaboration and inspiring humankind.

The updated timeline comes after the Biden administration extended operations for the space station until 2030.

Once its work is done, the ISS will crash into a remote part of the Pacific Ocean known as Point Nemo. This is the point in the ocean that is furthest from land, making it a prime crash site for many spacecraft over the years.

It’s estimated that space-faring nations have sunk more than 263 pieces of space debris there since 1971, according to a 2019 report published in the California Western International Law Journal.

“The International Space Station is entering its third and most productive decade as a groundbreaking scientific platform in microgravity,” Robyn Gatens, NASA director of the ISS, said in a statement.

“This third decade is one of results, building on our successful global partnership to verify exploration and human research technologies to support deep space exploration, continue to return medical and environmental benefits to humanity, and lay the groundwork for a commercial future in low-Earth orbit.

“We look forward to maximising these returns from the space station through 2030 while planning for transition to commercial space destinations that will follow,” Gatens added.

Private sector replacements

NASA signed agreements at the end of last year with three private sector companies to develop new space stations and other commercial destinations in space, and help develop a US-led commercial economy in low orbit. These companies are Blue Origin, Nanoracks and Northrop Grumman.

“The private sector is technically and financially capable of developing and operating commercial low-Earth orbit destinations, with NASA’s assistance,” NASA commercial space director Phil McAlister said.

“We look forward to sharing our lessons learned and operations experience with the private sector to help them develop safe, reliable and cost-effective destinations in space.”

Last year, private space-tech company Axiom Space raised $130m to launch its own space station, after being selected by NASA to provide modules to the ISS in the coming years.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic