NASA seeks industry feedback on ISS de-orbit capabilities

WASHINGTON — NASA is seeking information from industry about its capabilities and interest in developing a spacecraft that would deorbit the International Space Station at the end of its life.

NASA issued the Request for Information (RFI) at the end of August 19, asking companies to provide information on how they could develop a spacecraft that would be used to perform the final re-entry maneuvers at the end of station life, pushing it into the atmosphere to dissolve over the South Pacific Ocean.

Under a nominal de-orbit scenario provided by NASA in the RFI, the spacecraft would attach to the forward port of the Node 2 module one year before re-entry. Meanwhile, the station’s altitude would gradually decrease due to atmospheric drag and thruster maneuvers on the Russian segment of the station, dropping below 220 kilometers, the altitude below which thrusters alone can sustain station attitude control.

The deorbit vehicle would first place the ISS into a 145 by 200 kilometer elliptical orbit to minimize the period the station must rely on thrusters for attitude control. It would then carry out a final burn to lower the perigee to 50 kilometers, ensuring the “atmospheric capture” or the break-up of the station on re-entry.

NASA, in an ISS transition plan released in January, planned to use the Russian Progress cargo spacecraft for re-entry. “NASA and its partners have evaluated varying quantities of Russian Progress spacecraft and have determined that three can accomplish deorbit,” the report said. He added that Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft, capable of relaunching the station’s orbit, was also considered to deorbit the station.

“In a multi-year effort, NASA and its partners studied deorbit requirements and developed a strategy and action plan that evaluated the use of multiple Roscosmos Progress spacecraft to support deorbit operations,” said said NASA in a statement announcing the RFI. “These studies indicated that additional spacecraft could provide more robust deorbit capabilities, and NASA decided to assess the ability of U.S. industry to assist in the safe deorbiting of the complex.”

“NASA and our international partners are taking a cautious approach to space station end-of-life planning to safely execute deorbit,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA Associate Administrator for Space Operations, in the press release. “As part of our 2030 transition planning, we are looking for sufficient redundancy for the safety of crew, people and structures on Earth. This could also be an important US capability for future commercial destinations.

NASA and the other ISS partners except Russia have approved an extension of ISS operations from 2024 to 2030. Russian officials have said they plan to leave the ISS for some time after 2024, but have not set a firm date. In the RFI, NASA said the nominal scenario calls for the ISS to deorbit in early 2031, but it could be delayed or advanced depending on the state of ISS operations.

“Although the nominal ISS [end of life] is the end of 2030, the government requires that this de-orbit capability be available as soon as possible to protect against contingencies that could lead to early re-entry and beyond 2030 in the event of further ISS mission extensions,” RFI said. This includes the ability to launch the deorbited spacecraft as early as six months before the final deorbit maneuvers.

In the RFI, NASA asks industry for its technical capabilities to develop a deorbit module that meets its requirements, as well as the preferred contractual arrangements, operational issues, and scalability of such a module to serve space stations. commercial. Responses are due to NASA on September 9.

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