The United States, Russia, and their partners have decided that they will allow the International Space Station (ISS) to sink into the Pacific ocean at the end of it’s life cycle after 2020 since it would be considered junk at that point.
“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,” stated the deputy head of Roskosmos space agency Vitaly Davydov.
Junk in space is becoming an increasing problem. Last month in a rare incident, a piece of space debris narrowly missed the space station that forced a six member crew to run to their rescue craft.
The International Space Station (ISS) orbits 220 miles above the Earth. The ISS is a solid platform for scientific experiments that brings together space agencies from the U.S., Europe, Russia, Canada, and Japan. The ISS was launched in 1998 and was initially only expected to stay up in space for 15 years. But an agreement was made to keep it up there until 2020. The International Space Station will follow the foot-steps of the Russia Mir space station, which was sank into the Pacific Ocean in 2001 after 15 years of service.
Earlier this month NASA announced the last space shuttle launch as part of a program to develop a new technology for launching astronauts into space. Currently the Russian system is left as the sole means for delivering astronauts to the ISS. Russia is currently developing a new space to replace the Soyuz capsule, which is single-use.
Tests of the ship will begin after 2015 when it will have multi-use. Russia will be competing with the U.S. in developing the next-generation of space ships.
Currently it remains unclear whether mankind will need a replacement for the ISS to orbit close to Earth. “Lots of our tasks are still linked to circumterrestrial space,” said Davydov. Davydov added that a new space station could be used as a base for building complexes for deeper space exploration.
“I cannot rule out that it will be used to put together, create the complexes that in the future will fly to the Moon and Mars,” said Davydov. He added that “a serious exploration” couldn’t be done without manned flights.