Sometime within the next decade, the International Space Station will fall from orbit and plummet into the Pacific Ocean. At least, that’s the plan that NASA has for the aging space station that has helped fuel research and observational efforts for more than 20 years. But what will replace the ISS once NASA decommissions the space station? Right now, the plan seems to depend on companies entering space.
NASA does not plan to launch a second space station to serve as its base. At least, not in the same way that the ISS worked. Although the ISS was a joint effort of many countries to continue research and exploration in space, NASA plans to use commercial space stations to replace the ISS.
This huge set of plans is outlined extremely well by Will Sullivan in Smithsonian Magazine, who details some of the ways that NASA is working with companies like Axiom Space – the same company behind NASA’s new space suits – to continue research efforts after the ISS falls. Part of the problem when companies build space stations is that they must have a customer base to use them.
If NASA wants to use commercial space stations as an ISS replacement, then they’re going to need to find ways to ensure that the companies they want to put stations into orbit have a reason to do so. This is a complex matter because it involves the calculation of how many orbit Earth simultaneously. We still have China’s Tiangong station and countries are interested in theirs.
Aside from nationally based space stations, some of the big players currently working towards creating stations of their own include Axiom Space, Northrop Grumman, Blue Origin, and a joint operation between Voyager Space and Nanoracks. NASA may have a variety of ISS replacements, as each company approaches its station in a different way.
Of course, NASA still has plenty of other big things in the works, including the construction of Gateway on the lunar surface, which will come after the successful launches of the Artemis II and Artemis III missions later this decade.
Ultimately, if things all go according to plan, NASA shouldn’t have a hard time replacing the ISS with operations on other stations. All of this depends on Russia remaining at the ISS until it’s decommissioned in 2030.. Any early removal of Russia’s operations from the ISS could lead to a much earlier deorbiting, as Russia is responsible for several vital parts of the station’s current operational tasks.
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