In 2019, a NASA safety panel approved a plan to use a Russian spacecraft to deorbit the International Space Station (ISS) as early as 2028. Now the plan may be in question because Russia's involvement is unclear, reports UPI.
The plan saw Russia launch a Progress spacecraft to guide the structure into the atmosphere, where most of it would melt and the rest fall apart over the Pacific Ocean. However, Russia's space agreement ends in 2024 and the country has said it likely won't renew it.
"NASA is continuing to work with its international partners to ensure a safe deorbit plan of the station and is considering a number of options," spokeswoman Leah Cheshier said in an email to UPI without elaborating on those additional options.
Chester did add that the deorbiting mission would be "shared by the ISS partnership and is negotiation-sensitive at this time."
NASA confirmed that plans to have Russia modify a Progress service module — which would use its thrusters to guide the ISS into the atmosphere — are still underway.
The orbiting station would then be pulled by Earth's gravity and the increased drag from the atmosphere. As such, it would heat up so fast that it would melt quickly, leaving only remnants of engines, laboratories, and living quarters to fall into the sea.
But is that how things will go?
"The details of the decommissioning plan are still under discussion with international partners and contain pre-decisional and non-NASA technical details and are therefore not releasable at this time," NASA said in an email to UPI.
NASA does have some plans in place in case Russia's Progress is not available. NASA will turn to Northrop Grumman's Cygnus, Dan Huot, a space agency public affairs officer, said in an interview with UPI.
"Cygnus ... is the only other vehicle that we're looking at potentially being used besides the Russian Progress," Huot said.
For now, at least, however, Russia seems to still be part of the deorbiting plan.
"The Russians have agreed in principle to provide the Progress capsule, but there is work that they would have to do, also," Patricia Sanders, chairwoman of the safety panel, said in an interview with UPI.
"Planning like this is never easy with the space station because we have an international community, so you can't unilaterally decide what to do there."
Here's hoping all deorbiting efforts will run smoothly!