A New ‘Deorbit Tug’ is Being Sought by NASA For the Purpose of Bringing the Space Station Down In 2030

The International Space Station (ISS) will reach the end of its operational life in 2030. NASA is working to create a spacecraft that can safely guide the ISS into Earth’s atmosphere for controlled destruction. With NASA’s $27.2 billion budget, the White House has set aside $180 million. This money will be used to begin work on the creation of a new “deorbit tug” that can carry out this function. The space agency intends to employ this new spacecraft for additional space activities.

In a news conference, Kathy Lueders, NASA’s associate administrator for human spaceflight, said that the deorbit tug’s projected cost is around $1 billion. NASA intends to publish a request for proposals (RFP). It hopes to receive bids that are less costly than the projected price. The new tug will add to the deorbiting capabilities already offered by the space agencies of the United States, Canada, Russia, Europe, and Japan. The current strategy for shutting down the station safely relies on Russian robotic Progress cargo vehicles to ignite their engines. As they continue to add more modules, NASA hopes to expand this U.S. capability. This will ensure it has redundancy and can better assist in the targeting of the spacecraft and the vehicle’s safe return.

For NASA as well as its allies, redundancy is vital. Redundancy is essential, as demonstrated by recent coolant leaks on two different Russian vehicles connected to the ISS. All of the coolants in the Soyuz crew spacecraft were lost while it was in orbit on December 14, 2022. In addition, on February 11, a Progress spacecraft also experienced a leak. In addition to connecting the Progress problem to an “external influence,” Russia has related the Soyuz leak to a likely impact from a micrometeoroid. But, the two leaks are still being looked into. In addition, Russia intends to withdraw early from the ISS cooperation, probably after 2024. This will allow it to concentrate on developing its low-Earth orbit base.

Numerous of their space relationships have also ended as a result of Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. These elements might have influenced NASA’s choice to create the deorbit tug. NASA’s budget also includes $30 million to sustain Europe’s Rosalind Franklin ExoMars rover, which is looking for life on Mars and was meant to launch on a Russian rocket last fall. This is in addition to the deorbit tug. The European Space Agency cut ties with Russia on the ExoMars project earlier this summer, and the mission is currently undergoing a redesign. It’s possible that the next project won’t launch until 2028, and it’s uncertain how much NASA will fund the mission. $8.1 billion will be allocated to NASA’s Artemis program next year, with the goal of establishing a crewed lunar colony by the end of the 2020s.

November 2024 and December 2025, respectively, are the scheduled launch dates for Artemis 2 and Artemis 3. The funding will assist NASA in achieving two significant goals. Since Apollo 17’s landing in December 1972, Artemis 3 will be the first crewed lunar landing. Artemis 2 will carry men on an orbital voyage around the moon. However, Artemis 4 has been delayed until 2028. If all goes as planned, will assist in putting together NASA’s Gateway space station in lunar orbit and bringing men to the moon.