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NASA has a dramatic ending planned for the ISS in 2031

The International Space Station (ISS) will meet a dramatic end in about 10 years from now, hurtling to Earth at great speed before slamming into the Pacific Ocean.

An updated ISS Transition Report released by NASA this week outlined a plan to send the ISS plunging into the ocean at Point Nemo when it decommissions the facility in 2031. Point Nemo is a spot far from land known as “the space cemetery” as it’s commonly targeted for controlled descents of space junk.

NASA recently announced its intention to extend ISS operations until 2030, at which point the facility will be around 30 years old. But the cost and effort of maintaining the aging structure means NASA and its counterparts will not be seeking a further extension.

The station is therefore expected to be decommissioned in January 2031, with engineers performing a re-entry burn to extract it from its orbit some 250 miles above Earth. Too large to burn up during re-entry, what’s left of the facility will crash into the ocean before sinking out of sight.

For now, the work continues

The ISS has enabled astronauts to experience extended stays in space while conducting science experiments in microgravity conditions.

That work will continue, though in the remaining years NASA and its counterparts are also planning to increase private flights to the orbital outpost as part of efforts to raise funds while opening up space to more people.

Last December, Russia’s Roscosmos space agency organized a 12-day stay aboard the ISS for two Japanese space tourists, while NASA is planning to launch its first space tourism mission to the ISS in a couple of months from now, with each of the three participants reportedly paying around $55 million each for the experience.

Robyn Gatens, director of the ISS at NASA, said the station’s final years will be used 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.”

New space stations

NASA is seeking proposals for a new space station, and recently selected Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman, Nanoracks to come up with designs. The agency wants a new facility in space by 2028 to ensure continuous human presence in low-Earth orbit.

Away from the ISS, China is also building a station in space, with three astronauts currently living and working aboard the facility. Russia is also planning to build a station that it hopes to deploy in 2025.

To find out more about how astronauts live and work aboard the International Space Station, these videos made by past visitors tell you everything you need to know.

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Trevor Mogg
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