How to incinerate the International Space Station

It took NASA & its partners nearly four dozen trips between 1998 & 2010 to haul the roughly 900000 pounds worth of various modules into orbit that make up the $100 billion International Space Station.

But come the end of this decade, more than 30 years after the first ISS component broke atmosphere, the ISS will reach the end of its venerable service life and be decommissioned in favor of a new,

The problem NASA faces is what to do with the ISS once it’s been officially shuttered, because it’s not like we can just leave it where it is.

the ISS’ orbit would eventually degrade to the point where it’s forward momentum would be insufficient to overcome the effects of atmospheric drag, subsequently plummeting back to Earth.

So, instead of waiting for the ISS to de-orbit on its own, or leave it for the Russians to use as target practice, NASA will instead drop the station from high like Vader did Palpatine.

NASA is no stranger to getting rid of refuse via atmospheric incineration. The space agency has long relied on it in order to dispose of trash, expanded launch vehicles, and derelict satellites.

Both America’s Skylab and Russia’s Mir space stations were decommissioned in this manner. Skylab was America’s first space station, for the whole 24 weeks it was in use.

When the final 3-astronaut crew departed in early 1974, the station was boosted one last time to 6.8 miles further out in a 289-mile graveyard orbit.

It was expected to remain there until the 1980s when the increase in solar activity from the waxing 11-year solar cycle would eventually drag it into a furious reentry.

In 1978, NASA toyed with the idea of using its soon-to-be-completed Space Shuttle to help boost Skylab to a higher orbit, but abandoned the plan when it became clear that the shuttle was in time. 

Mir deorbit wants much more smoothly. After 15 years of service it was brought down on March 23rd, 2001, in three stages. First, its orbit was allowed to degrade to an altitude of 140 miles.

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