back to article Russia: 'We'll dump the ISS into the sea after 2020'

The deputy director of Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, says that the International Space Station will be knocked out of orbit and dumped into the sea after its mission is completed in 2020. "We will be forced to sink the ISS. We cannot leave it in orbit as it is a very complicated and a heavy object," Vitaly Davydov said a …


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  1. M Gale

    Still don't know why it can't be boosted to GEO

    It's not like it can't be done. It'd be a great test for the ion thruster technology. If it were just crashed into the sea, that'd be an awful lot of mass that would have to be re-launched next time a group of countries want an orbital research base.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      That's a big job

      Where do you start?

      The ISS is in an inclined orbit, geostationary requires one aligned with the equator. Changing inclination is a big job,

      About half of the energy used to lift a kilo to geostationary orbit is used getting it into low orbit, the remainder is used in the transfer to the higher orbit. So take whatever energy its been to assemble the ISS and double it.

      You'd then have to contend with the fact the ISS would lie outside the inner Van Allen Belt and would be exposed to more radiation and necessitate its crews being exposed to a healthy dose of whatever the Sun coughed up a few days ago.

      And finally, we don't have any manned vessels that can get there.

      1. Mike Flugennock

        good job; you pretty much covered it...

        ...although there's one thing I remembered as I read your post, and that is that you'd also have to consider the acceleration stress placed on things like seals and joints between modules, and attachment points for the trusses. As I recall, when ISS is periodically reboosted, it's done with a docked Soyuz or Progress, berthed at the "end" and in line with the main axis, not off-center.

        For a good idea of the push/pull and other stresses and oscillations which occur, go to NASA TV's YouTube site, and check out some of the footage shot from cameras mounted in workspaces aboard ISS, and watch how various wall-mounted items shake and shudder when the engines light for the reboost... and, mind you, that's from thrust applied properly along the "long" axis. Now imagine off-center thrust, or thrust vectoring when attempting to "steer" the station into a new orbit.

    2. Red Bren

      Why it can't be boosted to GEO

      I thought that one reason the orbit was chosen was to minimise the amount of time spent in the earth's shadow. If it was geosynchronous, the batteries would run out while the station was still in darkness. Or it would need more batteries and solar panels to charge them.

      There are other (more valid?) reasons here -

    3. Chris Miller


      How would crew reach a space station 22,000 miles up instead of merely 200? It would be almost as easy to get to a lunar base.

    4. Stevie


      Why would that be a good idea? We have no spacecraft capable of reaching it if we move it much further out, let alone GEO. The function of the onboard observational sensors would be badly compromised by the physics of the distance to intensity ratio and GEO is a prized and expensive place to put anything.

      If you're going to move it about, and assuming the trusses can stand the strain of doing that (haven't done the sums), surely there are more useful destinations?

    5. Keith T

      Good point

      Keep it up there and reuse the parts or reuse the metals.

      Not geosynchronous orbit, but a very orbit that will keep the ISS well away from other satellites for 30+ years.

      Perhaps wrap it in parachute-like material to contain anything that falls off or is knocked off by micrometeorites.

    6. David Given

      Boosting th ISS

      Unfortunately one of the problems with the ISS is that human spaceflight technology is, right now, pretty much el sucko. Manned vehicles have just enough delta-V to reach a limited set of very low orbits. One of the reasons the ISS was built in such a low orbit was because it had to be reachable.

      So while it's possible to boost its orbit --- it'd be expensive, but doable, involving a custom-built thruster module that gets launched on a heavylifter of some description, installed via spacewalks, and then very very slowly boosted over a period of years --- lift it more than a trivial amount and the ISS suddenly becomes useless as nobody can get to it any more.

      My personal opinion is that the ISS is a fabulous, amazing structure and ditching it in the sea would be a travesty. I *do* think that such a thruster module should be built and installed. This would give the ISS the ability to do its own stationkeeping without having to rely on visiting tugs; and would also open up the possibility of, if the station *has* to be decommissioned, doing so by lifting it into a parking orbit rather than destroying it. After all, one day someone's going to want it as a museum.

    7. Pooua

      Why Would We?

      We've never moved something as large as ISS with ion thrusters as main propulsion. As ISS isn't equipped to raise its orbit to GEO w/ anything, much less ion thrusters, it would have to have a rapid redesign and retrofit before that could happen. Then, when it got there, what would we do? No one has a way to get a man to GEO right now, much less a team of men. Equipping and maintaining it would become much more expensive. Whatever is aboard would be exposed to higher radiation levels than where it is now. All that for a station that probably hasn't gone a day in its life without equipment failures, even when it was new. What do you hope to get out of doing this?

      1. DayDragon


        I'm interested in Space travel and exploration, but i'm also a Sci-Fi fan so maybe this idea is too basic.

        We have no MANNED space craft, why don't we send lots of Honda ASIMO's (or similar automated devices) up there programmed to keep it maintained and operating?

        One of my other ideas was, why couldn't we start to use the ISS or similar, as a Space-Dock, like in StarTrek, where they research, design and build space-craft that cannot be built on Earth...

        (I did say i was a Sci-Fi fan :o) )

        Serious question, what would it take to put an object in space in a parallel lunar orbit and maintain it in that position?

    8. Paul RND*1000


      I propose we send up some really large living quarters to add to it, enough to hold all the politicians and lobbyists on Capitol Hill. Then strap a bunch of Shuttle SRBs to it and light the fuse. Don't care where it goes as long as it's away from Planet Earth.

      1. BorkedAgain
        Thumb Up

        @Paul RND*1000

        Even towards planet Earth might be acceptable. They'd still do less damage as a small crater or splash...

      2. Anonymous Coward

        Why the joke,

        Most sensible suggestion I have seen, could think of a few more to add with no difficulty.

    9. The elephant in the room

      I want Mars on a stick

      Never mind GEO and all people coming up with reasons why it cant be done - If it has to be kicked out of orbit one day I'm all for attaching a big rocket to it with an exhaust like my icon and cruising off to Mars. The ISS has plenty of space to fill with cargo for a Mars mission. Mars orbit is currently a lot less full of junk than Earth so it wont be in anyones' way there where it can continue its mission as a manned space station and also serve as a transit hub between subsequent interplanetary ships and landing shuttles.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hold on a sec

    So we scrap the moon project, we scrap the shuttle, we now going to scrap the ISS, (with no means of replacing it) Am i detecting a pattern here?

    I know this planets screwed in terms of money, largely due to selfishness and greed but really, shouldnt getting off this rock and exploiting the Solar system around us be a priority, who knows what we will find out there

    I know this bloke is just going off on one but the very idea of scrapping the ISS makes no sense to me at all, especially if we can keep adding to it and perhaps use it as some kind of stepping stone to other areas around us.

    1. Steve Knox

      Yeah but no but yeah.

      The US scrapped the moon project because it was never allocated any actual funding to begin with.

      At this point, the shuttle is 30- to 40-year-old technology (depending on which parts you look at). The shuttle project can well and truly be said to be well past its prime. So I would say that we finished that project, rather than scrapping it.

      The US is not currently planning to scrap the ISS now or in 2020 (re-read the article -- NASA is considering using it through 2028.) Even by 2020, the ISS would be 22 years old. Again, that's an admirable lifespan. (In comparison, my car is only ten years old (and I drive it about 60% as much as the average US driver) and it right now requires maintenance equivalent to over 10% of its original purchase price.)

      Technology breaks down. Pioneering technology in harsh environments often breaks down quicker. So the space shuttle and the ISS (and the Mars rovers and Hubble) have actually lasted surprisingly long.

      Having said that, the disturbing fact that I think we both agree on is not that these projects are ending, but that there appears to be no cohesive plan to replace them with even equivalent, let alone better, projects.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Keith T

      A Republican controlled congress

      A Republican controlled congress, and a USA that spends its financial and human wealth on invading other countries.

      They don't have an NHS. They can't afford a space program.

      Maybe they could sell the ISS.

    3. Stevie


      Especially considering it was the bloody ISS that drained the funding needed to keep the Hubble Space Telescope in operation.

      I don't understand why people are so down on he shuttle for its loss of design vision and consequent cost overruns, but so up about the ISS which has been an expensive boondoggle from day one, compromised to the point it barely fulfills any of its stated design goals.

      1. MrCheese

        Drained Funds?

        You do know NASA's budget is/was about half a percent of America's GDP right? The crime there was America's refusal to provide more funding so it could buy more bombs and line more congressmen's pockets.

    4. Blofeld's Cat

      You mean...

      "The universe is probably littered with the one-planet graves of cultures which made the sensible economic decision that there's no good reason to go into space--each discovered, studied, and remembered by the ones who made the irrational decision." - Randall Munroe

      1. VoodooForce


        but the Space Shuttle as a tender to the ISS was a failed vision that should have been scrapped before it's inception or just after Challenger.

        Then the money could have been spent on real research and space ventures rather than a glorified cross city transporter with it's destination a shabby caravan park in the sky.

        The de-orbit should at least be spectacular

    5. Pooua

      It Was The Plan All Along

      From what I can tell, ISS was never designed to be permanent, despite what some politicians have stated. It was designed to be assembled in orbit for use as a test-bed. It is large, complex and expensive to maintain, for very little benefit. The few experiments that run on it are of trivial significance. It was a proof-of-concept that did not pan out.

      I'm hoping we get a lot of use out of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. That looks to me like the only piece of equipment that might at all justify this whole fiasco.

    6. Anonymous Coward

      RE: Hold on a sec...

      Its cause NASA and the US can get outside help.... looks to the stars and Zeta Rectulli

      1. Alien8n

        Zeta Rectulli?

        Forget the Zeta rectullians, they couldn't find they're own phlembulobscians with their rastnoctlians even with 12 dimensional holo-maps

    7. M7S

      Much as I love the idea of space travel/exploration and think we should do it....

      .....pproximately 70% of this planet remains unexplored. There could be plenty of stuff under the oceans we could try and use, so I think we should explore that as a greater priority (perhaps a twin track approach). Whilst it is an equally difficult environment, if we do find anything, the long term logistics could be a lot easier.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fox News

    I didn't know they reported on science and engineering for fear of upsetting their core demographic who are not quite ready for the breaking news that the Earth isn't flat, isn't six thousand years old, wasn't made by God and isn't centred around Sarah Palin.

    1. Righteously Indignant

      who would have thunk it?

      one downvote - I didn't know Sarah Palin was a fan of the Register!

  4. 404

    I am pissed (not drunk - F-ing MAD!)

    They wasted no time at all stripping the remaining shuttles to be sent to museums.... making damn sure we can't do anything about it in time.

    I truly hate the current administration over this - we are better than this damnit!


    I still have the 'feel good' letter from GB1 from back in 1990 after complaining back then we were not doing enough to get the eff off this rock.... short-sighted bastards.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge


      "They wasted no time at all stripping the remaining shuttles to be sent to museums..."

      Calm down dear.

      NASA is on a tight schedule.

      Where do you think they will be getting the SSME's for the first 4 SLS launches from?

  5. hplasm
    Thumb Up

    It's apart of evolution!

    We need to get off and stay off this mudball,or become another evolutionary footnote.

    Hopefully, the Accountant will eventually go the way of the Neandertal- who was probably a better bet, future-wise.

    1. Adrian Esdaile

      right words, wrong order.

      WE will go the way of the Neanderthal BECAUSE of the Accountant.

      There, fixed it.

      1. Anonymous Coward


        It is my firm belief that if the if accountants had been ultimately in control of the building of the pyramids they would have been ten feet high and made of plywood

        1. Tom 7

          Its not acountants that you should worry about

          An accountant knows that if I have a £5 its still just £5.

          Its the politicians and economists who say that if you give it to a bank its really £500 and when you ask them where the £5 went hold a gun to your head for the other £495 they've pissed up the wall 'for the good of their imaginary economy' that are the problem

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Accountants!

          No, No, No, wrong word, BeanCounters!, the name of a subspecies very vaguely related to 'umans, is the word you want.

          Definitions :-

          Accountant - can ensure avoidance of tax, without evasion.

          BeanCounter - knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing

      2. Thomas 4

        In fairness

        Neanderthals and accountants do share a few similarities. Both speak an incomprehensible "language", both have little in way of a personality and both enjoy hitting people with things. The accountant has just progressed to more advanced weapons.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    Russians just realize the obvious

    Its to allow it to be given back its cultural owners.... The banks

  7. Chad H.
    Thumb Down


    Although Davydov told his interlocutors...

    So you're saying that the Borg is behind the plans to sink the ISS? Does it not meet their standards of perfection?

  8. Graham Marsden


    ... weren't NASA criticised a couple of years ago for saying that they were planning to de-orbit the ISS in 2016???

    1. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      Yes and also...

      Yes, that's true. Also at the time, Russia said that they might consider disconnecting some of their modules (at least the newer ones), and keeping them up there and adding to them for a new "MIR".

      There was orignially a plan that the last (6th? I'm a bit out of that loop now) ATV would be used to de-boost the ISS. The Russian plan to keep their modules in orbit threw a spanner in the works, because the ATV docks to the Russian docking ports, and if there are none of them left, the ATV wouldn't fit!

      Now that the station life has been extended, who knows? I wonder if this comment is to make sure that the US starts thinking about extended funding quickly; otherwise congress would still be arguing over an extension 5 years after the ISS had already crashed into the ocean :)

  9. Mage Silver badge

    Pretty useless really

    The ISS is only about 360km above sea level. GEO is about 36,000 km. 100x higher. That's a lot of energy. Without fuel the ISS drops over 20km per year.

    The ISS is not big enough or robust enough or high enough orbit to be a "staging post". It's barely more than a toy. The money would be better spent on Space exploration Robotics.

    Of course the ISS is doomed to be plunged into the sea. Actually most of it will burn up in the atmosphere. The only argument is when. It's expensive to keep refuelling (even with Ion Drive propellent) and maintain.

    Most of the advances have been in robotic and automated space exploration. Apollo, Mir and now ISS are really dead ends technologically.

    As was the Shuttle.

    1. Graham Dawson Silver badge


      In termsof energy, getting fom low orbit to geo is nothing compared to getting to low orbit. Go look at a the old Saturn rockets they used for the moon launch. Over two thirds of that enormous rocket was used for getting into orbit low orbit, the rest was used for getting all the way to the moon. Getting to GEO equivalent from where the ISS is now would need almost nothing compared to that.

      1. Keeees

        Re: Actually...

        Not that simple. Yes, 2/3 was used to get to low orbit. More specifically, to get the huge launcher to get to the moon into low orbit. They didn't stop for fuel in low orbit, they had to bring it all up in one go.

        Look at the Atlas that shot John Glenn into orbit. That's a dinky toy compared to a Saturn V. (120.000 kg vs 3 million kg.) The Saturn V is as big as it is *because* it needs to go so much further out.

        1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

          LEO -> GEO transfer station?

          Would allow fuel stops or changeover to say an ion shuttle or tug. Boost supplies & crew up to transfer station and then on to GEO via something more efficient. If the station isn't designed to operate at GEO altitude or can't be maintained post 2020 then it may be better to start with ISS v2, but in current economic climes, I guess that won't happen.

      2. Tom 13

        Actually, don't go look, go stand by one.

        I've looked at pictures. I never appreciated how truly, hugely, titanically, humungous the Saturn V was until I stood looking up into one of the nozzles at Cape Canaveral one day. I think I stopped looking at it about 15 minutes later. Just the nozzle mind you, the rest of the booster took far longer.

  10. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Flying White Elephants? Hell yeah!

    But then again, come 2020, keeping it in orbit _might_ look like wanting to keep the fridge-sized 3MHz machine in the basement.

    Just because someone blew 100 billion USD of taxpayer money on it [though mainly on bureaucratic wallowing and political porking] doesn't mean keeping it up would be a good idea.

    It's kinda like wars in Central Asia in that respect.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      White elephants have rights too...

      It's pretty important to preserve the occasional 3MHz machine - only move it out of the basement and into the tech museum. And keep it operational if possible.

      I'd be nice to keep it aloft, if only so that in 500 years it's still there as a critical piece of human history. And yes, a part of that history is to acknowledge it was and will always be a white elephant - an incredibly important one.

      Hell, why not sell it off to Bigelow for $1 for a space hotel.

      Otherwise we may just have to send up a boarding party and use it as a base for raiding passing military satellites.

      1. Steven Roper

        In 500 years' time

        human civilisation will be deep into the final dark age that is now well on its way thanks to the resurgence of religion. By then, the entire West as well as the Middle East will be under sharia law, China will be an Orwellian oligarchy frozen in its development by the need to preserve its status quo, and the remaining christians will be packed into Latin America and on their way back to hunter-gatherer. So there's really no need to preserve the ISS as a museum, since by the time you're talking about, nobody will be able to visit it or even know what it was.

    2. Filippo Silver badge


      The reason we don't keep the fridge-sized 3MHz machine in the basement is not because it's old. It's because we have much better machines in the living room. What do we have that replaces the ISS?

  11. yeahyeahno

    2028 is sometime after 2020,,,

    He apparently said "sometime after 2020" surely I'm not the only one who can see that all dates post 31st December 2020 are "sometime after 2020" so I don't see any discord between what he said and plans to use it till 2028 or beyond.


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