The ISS is coming to the end of its lifetime, but it has a little fight left yet.
Though recent incidents have indicated the ISS is running on aging hardware, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson announced on Dec. 31 that the U.S.’s Biden-Harris Administration has committed to extend the International Space Station’s operations through 2030, a press statement from NASA reveals.
NASA will continue to collaborate with other global space agencies, including Russia’s State Space Corporation Roscosmos, the European Space Agency (ESA), and Japan’s JAXA to keep the orbital laboratory in operation for the rest of the decade and beyond.
“The International Space Station is a beacon of peaceful international scientific collaboration and for more than 20 years has returned enormous scientific, educational, and technological developments to benefit humanity,” Bill Nelson said. The NASA Administrator also explained that the continued operation of the ISS will “advance the research and technology necessary to send the first woman and first person of color to the Moon under NASA’s Artemis mission and pave the way for sending the first humans to Mars.”
Life after the ISS
According to NASA, the ISS has hosted over 3,000 research investigations thanks to the collaboration of more than 4,200 global researchers. More than 100 countries have participated.
However, recent malfunctions have highlighted the fact that the illustrious space station won’t last forever and that world powers must plan for life after the ISS. In August last year, for example, reports emerged of new cracks on the station that could spread over time. A month before, a software glitch caused jet thrusters to ignite at the wrong time, throwing the space station out of its intended orbit.
In April, Russia announced that it plans to launch its own space station as early as 2025 amid rumors that it will withdraw from the ISS program — current international agreements on the operation of the space station expire in 2024. This follows a trend of Russia opting not to collaborate with the U.S. on future space programs. Last year, Roscosmos also turned down an invitation to collaborate on the U.S.’s Gateway lunar orbit station, instead choosing to collaborate on a similar project with China.
NASA is also planning for life after the International Space Station. The space agency granted several new contracts last year under its Commercial LEO Development program, including one to Blue Origin’s “space business park” called Orbital Reef. The ISS might still have some years of operation left, but the international scientific community is increasingly looking to the future.