Musk's SpaceX to destroy Space Station by 2030

NASA on Wednesday announced it has selected Elon Musk’s SpaceX to “develop and deliver” a specialized spacecraft that will safely deorbit the International Space Station scheduled for 2030.

The US Space Agency’s ‘Deorbit Vehicle’ will be designed with the capability to deorbit the space station in a responsible and controlled manner while avoiding risk to populated areas, according to NASA.

The space station is expected to break into pieces as part of the re-entry process, making safety a crucial part of the mission.

Due to the station’s aging components, the agency will be transitioning “to commercially owned space destinations closer to home” making it necessary to prepare for “the end of its operational life in 2030.”

“This decision also supports NASA’s plans for future commercial destinations and allows for the continued use of space near Earth,” said Ken Bowersox, associate administrator for Space Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

The space station, currently in low Earth orbit at 400km, is a unique scientific platform where crew members conduct experiments across multiple disciplines of research not possible on Earth.

“The orbital laboratory remains a blueprint for science, exploration, and partnerships in space for the benefit of all,” Bowersox said.

NASA will take over deployment

Although SpaceX will be tasked with developing the deorbit spacecraft, NASA said it will take over its operations and deployment once the craft is delivered.

The craft is also expected to break up along with the space station as its re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere.

Musk's space engineering firm posted on social media platform X after the announcement stating, "SpaceX was honored to be entrusted by @NASA
to support this critical mission."

The interdependent station has been jointly operated by NASA and four other space agencies since 1998, to include Canada, Europe’s ESA, Japan, and Russia.

Only the US, ESA, Canada, and Japan have agreed to keep the space station running until 2030 – with Russia’s State Space Corporation Roscosmos planning to bow out in 2028 due to concerns of equipment failure – although all five are responsible for its planned retirement.

The deorbiting operation was originally meant for Russian thrusters, which are tasked with maintaining the station's orbital altitude, alongside US solar arrays that keep its power running.

Washington has pushed NASA to accelerated the deorbit process and create a contingency plan in recent years due to fractured relations with Russia.

US officials believe a commercial ISS replacement is crucial to compete with China's newer space station in low-Earth orbit, according to Reuters.

Over the past 24 years, NASA said the crews living aboard the station have helped thousands of researchers conduct more than 3,300 experiments in microgravity.