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NASA Begins Weighing ISS Disposal Cost

What's a Cool Billion Between Taxpayers, Anyway?

The International Space Station's impending disposal could prove quite costly for NASA, as the beancounters begin to count up the damage.

The administration began running some figures for the overall cost of decommissioning all 450 tons of the ISS, and the rough figure sits at almost $1 billion. The costs wouldn't have been so bad in previous years, if they could make use of Russian assistance and their Progress vehicles. Under that older plan, the Russians would provide a series of the spacecraft to be connected to portions of the ISS to provide for a stabilized, controlled deorbit procedure.

Like many areas in the international space industry, Russian sanctions have rendered that solution unpalatable to US stakeholders. Now, NASA prefers to provide its own deorbit vehicle... which, like our heavy rocket fleet, consists of drawings, prototypes, and long-discontinued designs. There isn't much to pick from among western equipment that has the high-output thrust capability and finesse required to de-orbit an ISS module successfully. NASA's old standby, the SLS suite, is more or less reheated leftovers of the old shuttle program - refined and refurbished, of course, but the old RS-25D engines could be cynically described as microwaved leftovers. Even so, were it ready the SLS is meant to lift its payload into orbit, not provide short bursts of thrust to keep it on track as it burns up in the atmosphere.

Geopolitically, it's clear that NASA (at least, those signing their paychecks) would like its own de-orbit vehicle to be free of Russian reliance. It's assured that every space contractor's ears are keenly attuned to the request. The second the tender goes up, the race is on to create an American-made de-orbit vehicle to make the mission entirely domestic.



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