Launched on 20 November 1998, the International Space Station is the largest modular space station in low Earth orbit. The station was designed to be interdependent and relies on contributions from across the partnership. It acts as a microgravity and space environment research laboratory in which scientific research is conducted in astrobiology, astronomy, meteorology, physics, and other fields.
Since its launch, five space agencies (the Canadian Space Agency, the European Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the State Space Corporation “Roscosmos”) have operated the International Space Station, with each responsible for managing and controlling the hardware it provides.
Now, NASA is planning to deorbit the station in a controlled manner to ensure the avoidance of populated areas on Earth. The agency has released a request for proposal from U.S. industry for the U.S. Deorbit Vehicle (USDV), a spacecraft meant to safely deorbit the International Space Station as part of its planned retirement.
“The acquisition will give offerors freedom in proposing a Firm Fixed Price or Cost Plus Incentive Fee for the Design, Development, Test, and Evaluation phase to optimize value to the government and improve competition. The remainder of the contract will be a firm fixed price,” mentioned NASA.
The International Space Station will be carefully deorbited at the end of its program to stay clear of populous areas. Through partner contributions based on mass percent ownership by the agency, the five space agencies are jointly responsible for the International Space Station’s safe deorbit. The United States intends to move its low Earth orbit operations to commercially owned and operated platforms to maintain access to space for research, technological advancement, and international cooperation.
The International Space Station Program has served over 22 years, with assembly missions starting in 1998. The primary structure, which consists of the modules, radiators, and truss structures, determines how long the station will operate technically. Dynamic loads (such as spacecraft docking and undocking) and orbital heat cycling impact the primary structure’s lifetime. As the organization works to facilitate and ensure a smooth transition to commercially owned and controlled platforms in low Earth orbit, NASA has committed to fully utilizing and safely running the space station through 2030.
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