International Space Station to be Plunged Into Ocean by 2020; What After That?

It seems a golden era in space is coming to an end. First, it was the space shuttle program which expired, and now, there is news that the International Space Station will also be pulled down and plunged into the ocean by 2020.


Into a watery grave

Vitaly Davydov, the deputy head of Roskosmos, the Russian Space Agency, said so in no unclear terms and explained the logic behind such a drastic move:

¬†After it completes its existence, we will be forced to sink the ISS. It cannot be left in orbit, it’s too complex, too heavy an object, it can leave behind lots of rubbish.

The ISS will follow the Mir Space Station into the depths of the Pacific Ocean after its tenure. Mir was sunk in 2001. The ISS will have to be plunged into the ocean, since it loses orbit if left unmanned. It could become a big risk and, thus, needs to be “deorbited”.

The Mir space station, with Atlantis docked against it. (Photo courtesy: NASA)

The ISS, which was launched in 1998, was initially built for 15 years. However, scientists see that it can go on till 2020 and further. It orbits the Earth at an average altitude of 350 kilometers and is a product of collaboration between the US, Russia, Japan, Europe and Canada. There are smaller contributions from about hundred or so countries. The International Space Station is the most expensive machine ever designed, with the US alone spending $65 billion on it. The estimated worth is more than $100 billion.

The end of the space shuttle program has left the Russian space vehicle, Soyuz, as the only vehicle to transport man and machine onto the ISS. Russia is intending to replace the Soyuz in the near future with a spacecraft dedicated to ferrying men to and from the space station. Till 2020…

What after the ISS?

The natural question is what after the ISS? Will there be a replacement? By all means, the ISS was a success, but also a pioneering step. Man is now sure of the conditions in space. He is also more aware of the scientific potential of low gravity experiments. However, there might not be political will and money power to finance a replacement.

The ISS was widely seen as a launch pad for manned space flight into deeper space, especially to Mars. That hasn’t happened. However, the ISS has given new avenues in research for medicine, by allowing a unique environment for research – the microgravity environment.

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Debjyoti Bardhan

Is a science geek, currently pursuing some sort of a degree (called a PhD) in Physics at TIFR, Mumbai. An enthusiastic but useless amateur photographer, his most favourite activity is simply lazing around. He is interested in all things interesting and scientific.