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The International Space Station will ‘deorbit’ and smash into the Pacific Ocean in 2031.
ISS was launched in 1998 and was originally designed to last for just 15 years, but, when it finally lands back on Earth in less than ten years time, it will have been operational for more than three decades.
In a new report NASA has revealed how the future will look for ISS and how it will eventually end up in a ‘spacecraft cemetery’.
Writing in the International Space Station Transition Report, NASA said: “The ISS is a unique laboratory that is returning enormous scientific, educational, and technological developments to benefit people on Earth and is enabling our ability to travel into deep space.
“Based on the ISS structural health analysis, there is high confidence that its life can be extended through 2030.
“The technical lifetime of the ISS is limited by the primary structure, which includes the modules, radiators and truss structures.”
The space agency has said it plans to slowly lower ISS’s orbiting altitude, which will see it being dragged and pulled lower at such a speed it will start to heat up and throw off debris on its way.
Naturally, NASA doesn’t want any of this debris - or what’s left of the space station - to cause any damage to Earth so it will have a splash landing in an uninhabited area of the south Pacific Ocean near to Point Nemo, which is also dubbed the ‘spacecraft cemetery’.
Point Nemo gets its nickname as it's the exact spot that decommissioned spacecrafts are aimed at, because it has the furthest distance from any land.
The report went on: "Eventually, after performing maneuvers to line up the final target ground track and debris footprint over the South Pacific Oceanic Uninhabited Area (SPOUA), the area around Point Nemo, ISS operators will perform the ISS re-entry burn, providing the final push to lower ISS as much as possible and ensure safe atmospheric entry.”
All of the above is the ideal scenario and, of course, things may not run this smoothly in real life.
NASA has warned that higher solar activity would expand the Earth’s atmosphere and increase its resistance to ISS’s velocity, meaning it will fall more quickly than planned and could potentially miss Point Nemo.
In an attempt to counter this, as the space station nears Point Nemo, its operators will fire its thrusters to try and give it one last push into the sea.
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