How NASA plans to perform “controlled retirement” of ISS

The agency put aside 180 million dollars to build a special space tug.

The International Space Station (ISS), which is planned to be deorbited in 2030 after a 15-year service extension beyond its regular lifespan, is giving new headache to its operators (US, EU, Japan, Russia, Canada). 

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA), which has the lead in the ISS operations, fears that taking down the station in an uncontrolled manner is likely to cause destruction and casualties on Earth.

For this reason, the agency's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) insists that the deorbiting procedure is done with a special space tug, for which NASA has obtained 180 million dollars from the government.

It’s not clear yet which party or company will be entitled to design and construct the tug that would ensure the 109-meter long ISS’s controlled re-entry into the atmosphere or whether this amount would be sufficient.

More to read:
Why NASA changes New Horizons’ mission

At a recent briefing in Washington DC, ASAP chairwoman Patricia Sanders stated:

"The day will inevitably come when the station is at the end of its life — and we may not be able to dictate that day — it is inconceivable to allow the Station to deorbit in an uncontrolled manner."

"[The station] is simply too massive and would pose extreme hazard to populations over a broad area of Earth.

This needs to be resourced and resourced now if we are to avert a catastrophe," the SpacePolicyOnline quoted her as saying. 

Maintenance and operation of the 25-year-old station has become expensive and unsecure, therefore it is scheduled to be taken down in 2030 – or by that year – and be sunk in the Nemo Point area of the Pacific Ocean.

NASA earlier proposed to use Russia’s Progress spacecraft, which regularly resupplies the station, to perform the deorbiting procedure, but cooperation with Moscow in the international space program has stalled since the start of the war in Ukraine in February 2022.

What will replace the ISS?

Three separate teams of space companies have won contracts from NASA to design prototype commercial space stations that would replace the ISS:

  • The Blue Origin-led consortium including Sierra Space, Boeing, and Redwire received 130 million dollars for its plans to build Orbital Reef, a "mixed-use space business park" that will support different kinds of human spaceflight activity.
  • Northrop Grumman, going solo on a plan to convert Cygnus spacecraft into a space station, won 125.6 million in funding from NASA.
  • And Lockheed Martin, in cooperation with privately held Voyager Space, won a NASA contract worth 160 million to design their Starlab space station.
  • Additionally, Axiom Space intends to train private astronauts aboard the ISS, then attach its own modules to the space station, and later detach four of those modules to form its own private space station before the ISS takes its dive.


It's rare to see someone donating to support a science blog [PayPal: @newscafeeu / IBAN - RO50BTRLEURCRT0490900501, Swift - BTRLRO22, Beneficiary - Rudeana SRL]. If you do so - thank you dear reader. Otherwise you may click on ad banners on our website. Any help makes us hopeful.