NASA awards SpaceX $843m contract to help deorbit ISS

27 Jun 2024

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SpaceX is set to build the US Deorbit Vehicle which will ensure a ‘safe and responsible’ transition to low Earth orbit when the ISS ends its operations in 2030.

NASA has selected Elon Musk’s SpaceX to create a spacecraft that will deorbit the International Space Station (ISS) when it comes to the end of its life at the end of the decade.

The space agency said in an announcement yesterday (26 June) that it has awarded SpaceX a contract valued up to $843m to develop the spacecraft to be known as the US Deorbit Vehicle.

“Selecting a US Deorbit Vehicle for the International Space Station will help NASA and its international partners ensure a safe and responsible transition in low Earth orbit at the end of station operations,” said Ken Bowersox, associate administrator for the Space Operations Mission Directorate at NASA in Washington.

“This decision also supports NASA’s plans for future commercial destinations and allows for the continued use of space near Earth.

“The orbital laboratory remains a blueprint for science, exploration and partnerships in space for the benefit of all.”

SpaceX and NASA have worked closely together to deliver cargo and crew to the ISS over the years. In March, three NASA astronauts and one Roscosmos cosmonaut successfully reached the ISS aboard the SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket carrying a Dragon capsule to conduct extensive scientific experiments on the orbital lab.

While SpaceX will be responsible for developing the US Deorbit Vehicle, NASA said it will take ownership of the spacecraft and operate it throughout the mission. The idea is to ensure the safety of populated areas while the ISS “destructively” breaks up while hurtling back to Earth.

Continuously occupied by people for 24 years now, the ISS is one of humanity’s greatest achievements. The orbital laboratory is co-operatively run by the US, Europe, Russia, Canada and Japan and is the largest single structure humans ever put into space.

The US, Europe, Japan and Canada have committed to operating the station until 2030, after which commercial replacements will take over some of the tasks performed by the ISS, including Starlab – which is being developed by Voyager Space and Airbus.

While Russia has committed to continued station operations until 2028, NASA confirmed that the ISS deorbit will be the responsibility of all five space agencies.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic

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