Probably the only space station operating in low Earth orbit for some time will be China’s Tiangong station. NASA has just admitted that the International Space Station (ISS) could be deactivated even without another structure available to take its place. According to the agency, such a temporary violation would not be catastrophic.
There are some ongoing partnerships with private companies, such as Axiom Space, Blue Origin and Voyager Space, to build, launch and manage a new collaborative orbital laboratory, like the International Space Station.
The problem is that these projects may not be completed before 2030, the deadline set by NASA to operate the orbital complex without interruption since November 2, 2000.
At a meeting held on Monday (20) of the NASA Advisory Board, Phil McAllister, Director of the Agency’s Commercial Space Division, acknowledged the possibility of extending the useful life of the International Space Station, but highlighted that the current plan is for its eventual retirement. End of this contract.
NASA ensures a smooth transition between the International Space Station and the new space station
McAllister realized that a gap in human presence in low orbit would be undesirable, but not irreparable. To reduce the impact of a potential break, he suggested some options:
- Commercial spacecraft, such as SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsules and Boeing’s Starliner capsules, can carry additional equipment for missions as short as 10 days focused on important research;
- Other vehicles in development, such as SpaceX’s Starship rocket, Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser, as well as a variant from Blue Origin, could also contribute in proportion.
The transition between the ISS and commercial stations will require careful planning and coordination between programs, including contingency plans in case the stations are not ready in time.
At the meeting, Robin Gatens, director of the International Space Station at NASA Headquarters, said there is some “flexibility in the timeline” for the transition, which will depend on the readiness of commercial space stations and the availability of an ISS extraorbital vehicle.
Despite the challenges and uncertainties, NASA says it is committed to ensuring a smooth transition, and doing everything it can to maintain a human presence in low Earth orbit, “for the benefit of humanity.”
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