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NASA Details Plan to Retire ISS in 2030 and Deliberately Crash It Into the Pacific Ocean – Gizmodo

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A view of the ISS at night.
Photo: NASA

The end of the International Space Station is finally approaching, with NASA declaring the retirement of the orbital outpost in 2030 and a dramatic deorbiting early in the following year.

Nothing lasts forever, not even the International Space Station. The writing’s been on the wall for some time now, but NASA made it official earlier this week, announcing that ISS operations will last until 2030 but no further. Upon retirement, the space station will perform a controlled re-entry and crash onto a remote part of the Pacific ocean known as Point Nemo. It’s all part of NASA’s plan to hand over space station responsibilities to the private sector and save a whole lotta cash in the process.

“The private sector is technically and financially capable of developing and operating commercial low-Earth orbit destinations, with NASA’s assistance,” Phil McAlister, director of commercial space at NASA, said in the statement. “We look forward to sharing our lessons learned and operations experience with the private sector to help them develop safe, reliable, and cost-effective destinations in space.”

In a detailed transition report sent to Congress, NASA said it expects to save $1.3 billion the year after ISS is gone and $1.8 billion per year by 2033. The space agency plans to spend these estimated savings on deep space exploration projects, allowing it to “explore further and faster into deep space,” according to the report. But by extending the mission to 2030, NASA will “continue another productive decade of research advancement and enable a seamless transition of capabilities in low-Earth orbit to one or more commercially owned and operated destinations in the late 2020s.”

In an email, Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, cautioned that the new report didn’t include claims that other ISS partners, such as Russia, will agree to sustain ISS until 2030, “so it could be sooner,” he explained. Fair point. Russia, it would appear, has already checked out, as evidenced by threats of leaving and the deteriorating state of its ISS assets.

ISS has been in orbit since 2000, hosting a continuous succession of astronauts throughout its 22-year history. It’s the largest orbital outpost ever built—a stunning collaboration involving 15 different countries. Late last year, the Biden administration quietly extended the station’s lifetime from 2024 to 2030, but as the new report points out, this mission extension represents the last.

In its plan, NASA describes the decommissioning process, including a potential strategy to detach some modules and attach them to other space stations. At some point in 2030, the final crew will have to depart the ISS, in what will be undoubtedly an emotional and historic moment.

In early 2031, and with no one onboard, controllers will use thrusters to lower the station’s altitude to just above Earth’s atmosphere. The ISS will then make its fatal plunge through the atmosphere, followed by bits of debris splashing down onto the South Pacific Oceanic Uninhabited Area (SPOUA) in the vicinity of Point Nemo. This spot carries the nickname “spacecraft cemetery,” as it’s where space agencies have plopped hundreds of space pieces, including Russia’s Mir space station, for the past 50 years. Point Nemo is nowhere near inhabited areas, the closest being 1,670 miles (2,690 km) away.

Sounds simple, but the required degree of precision will require some extra work. The challenge is that ISS isn’t equipped with a big enough engine to allow direct travel from its current position to its required final low orbit in a single burn, as McDowell explained. ISS operators will have to “lower its orbit in stages before the final burn,” he said. “But you can’t lower it too far or the drag (winds) will make you lose attitude control and the station will start to tumble because of the forces.” The station will have to be lowered far enough before making the final burn, requiring the use of two Russian Progress spacecraft to lower the orbit and “then a third one to dump it,” McDowell said.

Indeed, and as NASA explains in its report, the station will “accomplish the de-orbit maneuvers by using the propulsion capabilities of the ISS and its visiting vehicles,” namely Progress and possibly Cygnus spacecraft. Then, “after performing maneuvers to line up the final target ground track and debris footprint” above SPOUA, 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,” according to the report.

With the end of the ISS firmly in sight, NASA will be turning to the private sector to maintain a continuous human presence in space. To that end, NASA has already allocated $415.6 million as part of its Commercial Low Earth Destinations program, with the funds being distributed to Blue Origin, Nanoracks, and Northrop Grumman. There is concern, however, that space stations built by these firms won’t be ready in time and that a gap will exist by the time ISS is retired a mere eight years from now.

This situation could get worse if, as McDowell warned, other ISS partners won’t commit to the 2030 extension. Russia, like China, has plans to build its own space station in the coming years. It seems we’re at the end of an era. Fair to say, an international collaboration like this won’t happen any time soon.

More: Rollout of NASA’s New Megarocket Delayed Until at Least March.

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NASA will launch the CAPSTONE mission on Monday, June 27 – electriccitymagazine.ca

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Rocket Lab's Electron rocket sits atop the launch pad at Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand for a rehearsal before the CAPSTONE launch.

A small satellite is preparing to pave the way for something much greater: a fully grown lunar space station. NASA’s CAPSTONE satellite is scheduled to launch on Monday and then travel to a unique lunar orbit on the Pathfinder mission Artemis programwhich seeks to return humans to the moon later this decade.

capstone He rides aboard Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket, which will take off from the private company’s Launch Complex 1 in Mahia, New Zealand. Rocket Lab made headlines in May using a helicopter to catch a falling booster missile. CAPSTONE is scheduled to launch at 6 AM ET on June 27 with live coverage starting an hour earlier. You can watch the event in the agency website or ApplicationOr, you can watch it on the live stream below.

NASA Live: The official broadcast of NASA TV

About a week after the CAPSTONE mission, the probe’s flight will be available through NASA Eyes on the solar system Interactive 3D visualization of data in real time.

The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) mission will send a microwave-sized satellite into near corona orbit (NRHO) around the moon. The satellite will be the first to sail its way around this unique lunar orbit, testing it for the planned date Moon Gatea small space station intended to allow a permanent human presence on the moon.

NRHO is special in that it is where the gravitational force of the Moon and Earth interact. This orbit would theoretically keep the spacecraft in a “beautiful gravitational spot” in a near-stable orbit around the Moon, according to to NASA. Therefore NRHO is ideal because it will require less fuel than conventional orbits and will allow the proposed lunar space station to maintain a stable line of communication with Earth. But before NASA builds its gateway into this highly elliptical orbit, the space agency will use CAPSTONE — which is owned and operated by Colorado-based Advanced Space — to test its orbital models.

Artist’s concept of CAPSTONE.
GIF: NASA/Daniel Rutter

Six days after launch from Earth, the upper stage of the Electron rocket will launch the CAPSTONE satellite on its journey to the Moon. The 55-pound (25-kilogram) cube vehicle will perform the rest of the four-month solo journey. Once on the moon, CAPSTONE will test the orbital dynamics of its orbit for about six months. The satellite will also be used to test spacecraft-to-spacecraft navigation technology and unidirectional range capabilities that could eventually reduce the need for future spacecraft to communicate with mission controllers on Earth and wait for signals from other spacecraft to relay.

NASA is systematically putting together the pieces for the agency’s planned return to the Moon. The The fourth and final rehearsal for the space agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) went wellpaving the way for a possible launch in late August.

more: This small satellite linked to the moon can make a path to the lunar space station

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Astronaut view of New Zealand's North Island – Earth.com

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Today’s Image of the Day from NASA Earth Observatory features the North Island of New Zealand. The photo was captured as the International Space Station (ISS) approached the southernmost extent of its prograde 51.6 degree orbit. 

From this vantage point – and with the perfect weather conditions – astronauts can get a clear view of the North Island of New Zealand, according  to ESA.

“Looking towards the northwest, the astronaut photographer captured the mottled-green island that separates the Tasman Sea from the South Pacific Ocean. On the other side of Cook Strait, South Island peeks out from beneath the cloud cover,” reports ESA.

“Seven bays surround the North Island and define its distinctive shape. The inland landscape includes grasslands (lighter green areas), forests (darker green areas), volcanic plateaus, and mountain ranges formed from sedimentary rocks.”

Lake Taupō, located in the center of the North Island, is a crater lake inside a caldera formed by a supervolcanic eruption. The lake borders the active volcano Mount Ruapehu, which has the highest peak in New Zealand. 

“The volcanic nature of the island arises from its location on the tectonic plate boundary between the Indo-Australian and Pacific Plates,” says ESA. “This plate boundary is part of the vast Pacific Ring of Fire, and leads to significant geothermal activity and earthquakes in the region. Additional volcanoes, including Egmont Volcano (Mount Taranaki), also dot the North Island landscape.”

Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer

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Artemis 1 moon mission could launch as soon as late August – Space.com

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NASA officials have declared the Artemis 1 moon rocket’s most recent “wet dress rehearsal” a success and are hopeful the mission can get off the ground as soon as late August.

The Artemis 1 stack — a Space Launch System (SLS) rocket topped by an Orion capsule — is scheduled to roll back to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida on July 1, where the massive vehicle will undergo repairs and preparations for its coming launch. 

Artemis 1, the first launch for the SLS, will send an uncrewed Orion on a roughly month-long mission around the moon. The mission has experienced several delays, and most recently the rocket’s certification to fly has been held up by incomplete fueling tests — a key part of the wet dress rehearsal, a three-day series of trials designed to gauge a new vehicle’s readiness for flight. 

Related: NASA’s Artemis 1 moon mission explained in photos 

The Artemis 1 stack first rolled from the VAB to KSC’s Pad 39B in mid-March, to prep for a wet dress rehearsal that began on April 1. But three separate attempts to fill the SLS with cryogenic propellants during that effort failed, sending the stack back to the VAB for repairs on April 25. The most recent wet dress try, which wrapped up on Monday (June 20), didn’t go perfectly, but NASA has deemed it good enough to proceed with preparations for launch.

Operators were able to fully fuel SLS for the first time, bringing the launch simulation much further along than any of the attempts in April. A leak from the core stage’s engine cooling system “umbilical” line was detected during Monday’s fueling test, but mission managers determined that the deviation didn’t pose a safety risk and continued with the simulation’s terminal count. That ended up being the right decision, Artemis 1 team members said.  

Mission operators were able to run a “mask” for the leak in the ground launch sequencer software, which permitted computers in mission control to acknowledge the malfunction without flagging it as a reason to halt the countdown, according to Phil Weber, senior technical integration manager at KSC. Weber joined other agency officials on a press call Friday (June 24) to discuss the plans for Artemis 1 now that the wet dress is in the rear view mirror.

The software mask allowed the count to continue through to the handoff from the mission control computers to the automated launch sequencer (ALS) aboard the SLS at T-33 seconds, which ultimately terminated the count at T-29 seconds. 

“[ALS] was really the prize for us for the day,” Weber said during Friday’s call. “We expected … it was going to break us out [of the countdown] because the ALS looks for that same measurement, and we don’t have the capability to mask it onboard.” 

It was unclear immediately following the recent wet dress if another one would be required, but mission team members later put that question to rest.

“At this point, we’ve determined that we have successfully completed the evaluations and required work we intended to complete for the dress rehearsal,” Tom Whitmeyer, deputy associate administrator for Common Exploration Systems at NASA headquarters, said on Friday’s call. He added that NASA teams now have the “go ahead to proceed” with preparations for Artemis 1’s launch.

Before it can be rolled back to the VAB, however, the stack will undergo further maintenance at Pad 39B, including repairs to the quick-disconnect component on the aft SLS umbilical, which was responsible for Monday’s hydrogen leak. 

There’s also one more test technicians need to perform at the pad. Hot-firing the hydraulic power units (HBUs), part of the SLS’ solid rocket boosters, was originally part of the wet dress countdown but was omitted when the countdown was aborted. Those tests will be completed by Saturday (June 25), according to Lanham. Following the hot-fire tests, operators will then spend the weekend offloading the HBUs’ hydrazine fuel.

Once back in the VAB, NASA officials estimate it’ll take six to eight weeks of work to get Artemis 1 ready to roll back to Pad 39B for an actual liftoff. Cliff Lanham, senior vehicle operations manager at KSC, outlined some of the planned maintenance on Friday’s call. 

Related: NASA’s Artemis program of lunar exploration

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Among other tasks, technicians will perform standard vehicle inspections, hydrogen leak repairs, “late-stow” for the payloads flying on Orion, and software loads to the SLS core stage and upper stage. They will also install flight batteries.

“Ultimately, we want to get to our flight termination system testing,” Lanham said. “Once that’s complete, we’ll be able to perform our final inspections in all the volumes of the vehicle and do our closeouts.”

After that work is complete, the Artemis 1 stack will roll out from the VAB once again, making the eight to 11-hour crawl back to Pad 39B on July 1. Whitmeyer said on Friday that the late-August launch window for Artemis 1, which opens on Aug. 23 and lasts for one week, is “still on the table.”

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