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.

  12. mike panero

    One swift kick and the whole lot will crumble

    Once more the free market can cock a snoot at Johnny Marxist as glorious NASA is replaced by my X

    What is it my grandfather used to say "Those who believe in a free market must become its slaves"

    1. TheTick

      Re: One swift kick and the whole lot will crumble

      "What is it my grandfather used to say "Those who believe in a free market must become its slaves""

      Perhaps your grandfather should have read Hayek's "The Road to Serfdom" then.

      I use the free market to get the things I want at affordable prices, and to sell myself to the highest bidder, or withhold my labour should I feel the need or want.

      The only things in my life that I am a slave to are the missus and the state.

  13. Anonymous Coward

    May I be the first...

    Perhaps our new ????? overlords are orchestrating an enforced stay at home policy?

  14. Stevie


    I'll be interested to see whether the modules are still habitable in ten years time myself. For all the tears cried over MIR, and admitting it was a great achievement, it was clapped out and a danger to all on board by the time it was decommissioned.

    In the real universe there are problems involved with only-just-tech societies keeping space habitats viable. Actors and politicians don't have a say when it comes to this, only technologists and astronauts/cosmonauts and, if they are good and keep very quiet, scientists.

    Of course, it might be possible to convert much of the operation of the thing to telepresence.

    But then: why bother. The point of space is to go there in person. Otherwise, why have it in the first place?

  15. Anton Ivanov

    Is it me being thick...

    The bloody thing is modular. Even if some modules cannot pass 2020 that does not mean that you should dump the whole thing. You can deorbit bits and pieces and leave the viable ones in orbit as a basis of something to build upon

    1. John Sturdy

      Probably most efficient

      It makes far more sense to keep replacing modules than to start a new collection of them -- it never again has to go through the stage of getting the first n new modules up there to get it habitable.

  16. Alan Firminger


    Until another nation gets people into space and back, the Russians have their foot on everyone else's windpipe. Just like keeping Europe warm in winter.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      @Alan Firminger

      "Until another nation gets people into space and back, the Russians have their foot on everyone else's windpipe. Just like keeping Europe warm in winter."

      Well that will depend if Spacex can achieve 12 successful cargo deliveries to ISS *and* complete the crew rescue system on the budget NASA has given them

      If so they estimate they will be ready to carry people by Oct 2013 or April 2014 at the latest.

      That's a big *if* of course. Other options will be the crew rating of the Atlas V for Dragon, CST-100 or the NASA MPCV

      The NASA SLS is looking at a first crewed flight for MPCV in 2021, given present NASA budget levels. Presumably by then a crew rates MPCV will exist for it to carry.

      Of course Europe *could* upgrade its ATV design to human rating and add a heat shield to support down mass. Something like the ARD.

  17. LaeMing

    And the US will do exactly what...

    ...about anything happening above the atmosphere these days?

    El-reg has a more ambitious space-launch plan than those has-beens these days!

    1. M7S

      Actually, that's a thought

      X-prize it in some way, or we should see if Lester and Lewis can devise some means of taking it over.

      For the common good of course.

    2. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Drop Red and Blue Pills ..... for Purple Patches

      "And the US will do exactly what......about anything happening above the atmosphere these days?

      El-reg has a more ambitious space-launch plan than those has-beens these days!" .... LaeMing Posted Wednesday 27th July 2011 22:22 GMT in "Russia: 'We'll dump the ISS into the sea after 2020'"

      Certainly there are those HyperRadioProActive readers who have more than just ambitious plans for Intelligent Space Systems and Stations, LaeMing, for Sublime Assets Programming is a Current Active Present Power Application in ITs Future Projects in HyperRadioProActive virtual Reality Ported Fields with Global Operating Device Zones ..... Surreal Areas with Real Anatomical Control of Massively Autonomous Anonymous AIgent Power Systems.

      Oh, and before anyone jumps in with some bland flash nonsensical comment, please consider this scrap of information which is Crown Copyright apparently ..... "Although people will remain the focus of the information domain, whether perception or reality, the degree of control will fluctuate. Central to the effective manipulation and management of the cyber domain will be control of the technological development and the mental capacity to understand how best to use the derived data. The complex interactions between cyberspace and ICT will be tightly coupled and vulnerable to attack.This may lead to cascading failure and emergent behaviours requiring mitigation through resilient design or the graceful degradation of systems when under stress or attack.

      There will be novel threats. Some actors will identify the cyber vulnerability of potential adversaries and recognise that exploiting such vulnerabilities in times of conflict is less expensive than conventional warfare, and more difficult to detect, attribute and prove. Conversely, the technological leap made by developing states, for example moving to

      wireless networks, also renders them more vulnerable to cyber-attack than legacy fixed infrastructure. Examples of the use of cyber-technologies to influence strategic and tactical outcomes have been seen in Estonia and Georgia. Extensive ‘denial of service’ attacks contributed to both the military and economic pressures on the target government. While no state acknowledged itself as the perpetrator, such attacks as part of a unitary approach to conflict will become routine." ...... Hot Topic - Cyberspace ...

      And the alien posit here on El Reg is that you/we are much further down the rabbit holes/consumed and controlled by the matrices highlighted in that pdf document, than has ever been thought possible and probable, and is now realised and virtualised .... or if you would prefer, in order to offer an element of perceived future control participation for oneself in such novel expert subject matters ...... being realised/being virtualised. The quite significant semantic difference in the two scenarios, though, matters not a jot in the bigger picture play, for what is, is, and such changes to deliver an artificial comfort to players, are merely derivatives that hedge and/or zeroday trade the future reality to server base legacy systems, and personal vanities, which have lost leading control of Present Future Reality Product and Program Placements.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Geosync considered harmful

    1) The ISS's current orbit is highly inclined, to allow it to be reached by the Russian launch facility. Moving that to a more equatorial orbit would take more delta-V.

    2) Geosync is high enough that the earth's magnetosphere wouldn't provide enough shielding (as it does at the current ISS orbit). Thus, long-term (as in "more than a few days") habitation would be very hazardous to the health of the astronauts.

    3) We currently don't have any launch vehicles that are both man rated and able to reach geosync.

  19. Keith T

    very high earth orbit or orbit around the sun.

    We should be boosting things like the ISS and Hubble Space telescope into very high earth orbit or orbit around the sun.

    That way in 20+ years they can either be used for parts, or brought back to earth museums, or used in orbital museums.

    It is a shame that this stuff is being trashed.

  20. Stevie


    Who didn't see this coming? Put all your eggs in one basket that someone else owns and it's only a matter of time before you wake up to no breakfast.

  21. Frumious Bandersnatch

    surely it could avoid this fate

    if a mega rich dynasty bought it before then? Or maybe it would take the combined wealth of the Tessier and Ashpool dynasties, perhaps?

    1. Rattus Rattus

      @Frumious Bandersnatch

      I can't see the ISS being more than a broom cupboard in the Villa Straylight.

    2. oddie

      (L) neuromancer (L)

      it's all in the title

  22. Pooua

    I'm Surprised You Are Surprised

    Davydov's comments are nothing new. I first learned of this plan maybe 5 years ago, but I recall that we were going to get even less time. It left me aghast, because it meant that we would spend a decade putting ISS in orbit, then crash it into the ocean only 5 years later. So, now we get 10 years. I'm not real happy with it, but ISS isn't meant to be permanent.

  23. Rodrigo Valenzuela

    as Larry Niven said..

    Building one space station for everyone was and is insane: we should have built a dozen.

    Larry Niven

    There was another quote, which I can't remember nor found, it went something like: " the universe is filled with the remains of civilizations that made the logical, economical decision of not going into space... discovered by those who made the insane one."

    But as I said, can't remember who said it.


  24. Bounty

    VASIMIR in 2014

    According to wikipedia

    The station boosting costs should be down to ten million a year or something? That's damn cheap. I'd bet the Chinese or private corps would foot that just to have a destination for their work. Or a lot of other groups for that matter.

    I'd like to see the ISS stay (and upgraded) since it provides so much life support systems research for us. Basically they should revise it's recycling systems until eventually you don't need as many re-supply missions, other than fuel for VASIMIR. Once you get that down, you can throw some (magnetic) shielding on, and go colonize.

  25. Eddy Ito

    See icon

    ""knowledgeable government sources and NASA spokesmen were aghast" at Davydov's suggestion that the ISS would meet the same fate as Russia's Mir space station, which was de-orbited and sent into the sea near Christmas Island in 2000."

    Aghast at what; the thought of dumping it into the sea or that someone actually said it out loud? In reality it's never been a question about dumping it into the sea, it's only about when. Hopefully we can actually finish building the damn thing before they scrap it. Unless all this money was spent to find out _if_ we could build an ISS. Actually that does sound more like the typical gubbermint project that way: allocate vast sums of money, build something grand, pat self on back for building it, walk away, look for new very expensive project while letting the last one crumble to ash, wash hands, repeat.

    Now then, cocktails are in order. Yes if only to suppress my building anger and frustration at these fu^Hickle political boobs.

  26. JohnG

    cargo shipments

    There are also the ATVs - they can haul supplies and give the ISS a shove back to the correct height.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    It would be great if they could afford to put it in orbit around Mars. It would be much more useful there as a base for remote exploration of the surface, without the crippling communication time delay. Getting astronauts to and from an orbiting space station would be much cheaper and safer than returning them from the surface.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Launch it to Mars? With what, dilithium crystals?

      Even if you could get the ISS out of LEO (which you can't), how do you propose to put it into orbit around Mars?

  28. Stuart Duel

    Cost of stupidity

    Whatever the cost of periodically stabilising the orbit, surely it has to be an order of magnitude cheaper than building a new space station of that size from scratch and putting that in orbit? Far from having money to burn, the various space exploration outfits currently need to pinch pennies until they bleed.

    Aside from that, the ISS is massive. How could you possibly have any guarantee of control over how it breaks up and where all those big chunks will splash down - or crash land.

    I can just see it now:

    "Authorities have ordered the immediate evacuation of the Australian city of Perth and the South African city of Cape Town after the controlled re-entry of the ISS went awry.

    "We're not exactly sure how many cities are at risk, at least two for sure, but we're currently tracking a half dozen pieces of the ISS which unfortunately have not followed their intended course and pose a major threat if they crash into population centres", stated NASA.

    "We've scrambled fighter jets to intercept the debris, but we can't be sure we'll be able to destroy it before it hits the city. It's simply outrageous that they could have allowed this to happen at all - what were they thinking?", the Australian Defence Minister said. The minister refused to comment on whether the Australian Government would demand compensation from the United States and other ISS partners for any deaths and damage.

    Won't happen, can't happen? It almost did once before - remember what happened to Skylab.

    1. Annihilator

      @Stuart Duel

      "the ISS is massive"

      Compared to you perhaps, but compared to the planet it's a blip.

      "remember what happened to Skylab"

      Skylab was an uncontrolled re-entry (a "natural orbital decay with random reentry") - a more comparable event is the Mir de-orbit which was planned and used an RCS burn to do it, much like they're eventually planning with the ISS. They can aim at a patch of ocean roughly 1500km x 100 km with an RCS burn. Pretty much the same as any Soyuz landing. The break-up doesn't really change the physics much.

  29. Adrian Esdaile

    @ "the shuttle is 30- to 40-year-old technology "

    Yeah, so?

    I think the Soyuz is older by about 5 years or so, and it seems pretty reliable!

    Also, 747s in fact 95% of airliners are 30-40 year old tech, heck so is your car for that matter. I still see my first car - a 1980 Datsun Sunny - kicking around, and it is still going strong. Uses less petrol than a modern SUV too, and hasn't required significant production of metals or plastics over that time as well!

    'Its old' is NOT a valid reason for throwing something away!

    1. Dave Bell

      The design is not the object

      OK, some of those airliners flying are very old. And they get detailed inspections and thorough maintenance. Soyuz (and its launcher) are built new for each flight.

      The ISS is rather more difficult to check and maintain. As it gets older, the crew will be spending more and more time on just keeping it running.

      "It's old and can't be fixed" is inevitable, and then you de-orbit the ISS.

      Whether it's the politicians refusing the money, or just the pointlessness of flying astronaut-plumbers, the ISS project will end.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Odd comparison that Datsun - modern SUV comment. My 4th century mud hut uses less electricity than my modern barn conversion, AND still has functional walls and a roof... but that's hardly relevant....

      Is there not any scientific / engineering study into the viability of running past 2016? Safety first :)

    3. James Hughes 1

      Ahh, but...

      The shuttle is 30 year old, very complicated technology, which can be easily replaced by much cheaper modern technology for the task of supplying the space station.

      e.g. SpaceX's Dragon.

      Cost of one year of shuttle flights, $4B (maintenance, ground infrastuctuure, flights), cost of 12 Dragon flight's $1.6B

      Now the shuttle can carry a lot more cargo than the dragon, but if full capacity is used on the dragon, its about $10k/lb vs Shuttle $21k/lb.

      So NASA save $4 billion A YEAR. but spend $1.6B over multiple years as a replacement.


      1. Stevie


        Are we adding in the cost of recovering the crew re-entry vessel in that?

        I seem to recall that in previous versions of this idea large portions of the Navy were required to get the crew back home.

        The Shuttle had one massive advantage - it could bring the crew back to the place they were expected without the need for an aircraft carrier, escorts, Sea King helicopters, divers, pilots, reconnaissance aircraft etc, and wasn't as scuppered by typhoons, hurricanes etc as the other option was.

        Easier to land the Shuttle somewhere other than planned and transfer it later than move a fleet of ships to a different ocean.

        No doubt this has been factored in, and not conveniently left off as a "detail" best sorted out after public funding has been gotten for the so-called "private industries".

    4. Pete 2 Silver badge

      Cheap, not old

      > I think the Soyuz is older by about 5 years or so, and it seems pretty reliable!

      And because all the design costs have been swallowed, it's quite cheap too.

      Compare that with the scuttle. Not only is it expensive to build, but it costs a packet to service between each flight. That's what killed the concept: its high maintenance costs and long turnaround times.

      In fact the shuttle has cast a long shadow over american space development. Even 40 years ago there were plans for much more fuel-efficient aerospike engines and better solutions than ceramic tiles as reusable heat shields. Sadly, projects like VentureStar were canned in order to keep the pork flying (remember: one mans efficiency saving is another mans unemployment).

      If the right people had made the right technical decisions some time around 1970, there could now be a much cheaper space programme, regularly flying SSTOs to multiple in-orbit destinations - possibly even further. However, being a government run programme, there was never a need for efficiency or to incentivise good designs or innovation. The whole space programme was only ever about appeasement: either the population, the media, the aerospace industry or local politicians.

      Now it's over.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

        @pete 2

        "Compare that with the scuttle. Not only is it expensive to build,"

        "The funding profile allowed by the OMB was *completely* unlike any real large scale project."

        "but it costs a packet to service between each flight. That's what killed the concept: its high maintenance costs and long turnaround times."

        The maintenance cost is an *outcome* of the development budget. It is *no* accident.

        "In fact the shuttle has cast a long shadow over american space development. Even 40 years ago there were plans for much more fuel-efficient aerospike engines"

        Not just plans. A 250 000lb thrust H2/O2 (not flightweight) was built and ground tested. A later 25Klb flight weight engine was tested by the UASF but severely damaged in ground tests. It's probably sitting on a shelf in a back office somewhere.

        But MSFC *wanted* to go with staged combustion as *all* Russian engines of the time used it and they had *no* experience of it. The USAF had using storable propellants. Turns out using LH2 is *much* harder than a Hydrazine.

        "and better solutions than ceramic tiles as reusable heat shields. "

        NASA's *absolute* insistence on the *lightest* weight TPS (partly because neither engine mfg delivered what it was *expected to deliver in performance) made tiles the winner. Everything was sacrificed to this.

        "Sadly, projects like VentureStar were canned in order to keep the pork flying"

        Wrong. X33 allowed LockMart to hoover up c$1.1Bn which should have gone to companies with *no* existing launch vehicle to protect and who would have been *very* motivated to deliver a working design. Instead LockMart played the procurement process like a violin and strangled *effective* competition at birth. NASA did that to themselves.

        "If the right people had made the right technical decisions some time around 1970,"

        Nixon wanted to kill the space programme. He took his VP's report and threw away *everything* but the Shuttle.

        " there could now be a much cheaper space programme, regularly flying SSTOs to multiple in-orbit destinations - possibly even further. "

        We'll never know. So deal with what the situation is now.

        "The whole space programme was only ever about appeasement: either the population, the media, the aerospace industry or local politicians."

        Otherwise known as the stakeholders. US citizens were *never* one of those groups, they were just meant to fund it.

        A little history helps to understand where you're going and why you got here.

  30. Adrian Esdaile

    I'm sure NASA are aghast!

    Because NASA plans to dump it in the ocean in 2016!

    Mind you, from the same site... "The US government is liable for any damage caused by the US segment during ISS reentry and they are required by law to at least have a plan for a controlled reentry."

    Poppycock. NASA never admitted any fault or liability for spreading Skylab over most of Western Australia.

    If we don't keep throwing away perfectly usable space tech, how else are US presidents going to maintain their pork-barrel projects? They cant keep building useless manned stealth fighters forever! Oh, wait....

    1. Trygve Henriksen


      Who said NASA were at fault?

      They may say otherwise, but that was a well-executed test of the VHAC bomb system(Very High Altitude Clustermunitions. Pronounced 'whack.'.. ), and frankly, no one though the Australians would mind that much.

      As you see, no fault there...

  31. Peter Murphy

    BTW: good on El Reg for not underestimating their readership's intelligence!

    They notice a bit of apposite Russian to quote like "мы стали монополистами". So what do they do? No bad attempts at transliteration? No Berlitz-for-Morons "MI STA-LYEE MO-NO-PO-LYEE-STA-MYEE" that you sometimes get in budget traveller's guidebooks? Nope: they write it as it was written, and trust us to figure it out.

    Good on ya, El Reg. Oh, and good on the Unicode standard (and later editions of the HTML standard) for making it possible to mix languages with ease in your browser.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "That's a nice ISS you've got there. Such a pity it must fall into the sea as early as 2020. We'd really like to help with that. Sadly the price for our help just doubled."

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Great idea

    Scientists keep on telling us that we know less about the bottom of the sea than the rest of the universe. Make sure you load it up with sea scientists before you take it down.

  34. Peter Mc Aulay


    It would be nice to be able to keep ISS around as a museum, but unfortunately space doesn't actually preserve things that well - materials decay due to micrometeorite impacts, thermal stress and hard radiation. Boosting it into a high, stable orbit would only make matters worse, since it would probably have to be put outside the Van Allen belt and that will turn it into a slowly dispersing torus-shaped cloud of navigational hazards that much quicker. At the very least you'll want to wrap it in something.

    Digitally mapping it in high resolution and 3D before it deorbits would be much easier though, and actually feasible right now.

  35. SirWumpus

    How about Mars Mission "gas station"

    Launch the station towards Mars stocked in preparation as a refuel / resupply way-point for a future manned Mars mission. Sort of like a highway rest stop.

  36. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    There *are* alternatives.

    Firstly the US *owns* the ISS (AFAIK but IANAL). But in space it would appear *access* is 9/10s of the law.

    There have been *proposals* to operate it as a "National Laboratory" (although AFAIK all the US ones in this category are involved in nuclear research) or for the more internationalist view to convert it into an international facility. The nearest equivalent of which seems to be CERN (are there others?)

    Note that despite *all* that money spent the US came to closed cycle life support *very* late in the game and AFAIK most of their work has drawn *heavily* on Russian work in this field, making ISS water *the* most expensive bottled water in the solar system at c $15000/litre.

    Relocating it to Geo is a lousy idea unless you're really going to configure to act as a construction base for a power satellite, but you now have a re-supply and a radiation problem to deal with.

    An interesting notion would be to put it in a cyclic or "elevator" orbit between the Moon and Earth, picking people and stuff up for dropping off at the Moon. I think Buzz Aldrin suggested this (and something like it has come up in a Stephen Baxter novel?)

    Making it happen *without* a huge bill for new hardware development would be the tricky bit.

    AFAIK ELV fairings *are* big enough (now) to accomodate new modules for the design. Weather it would be cost effective to use them is another matter ("Cost effective" in the terms of govt programme is a bit different to what normal people are used to).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      CERN loves the attention, but there are more international science facilities than it, that we (well, you) the British taxpayers fund :) ILL, ESRF, ITER, ...

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge


        "CERN loves the attention, but there are more international science facilities than it, that we (well, you) the British taxpayers fund :) ILL, ESRF, ITER, ..."

        Thank you. I suspected there were more but I was not sure. ITER is the only one I recognise though.

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      Hmm. 1 upvote but *two* downvotes.

      Care to explain your complaints?

  37. an_engineer

    Zvezda Module

    I would like to point out that the Zvezda module was the third module launched to the ISS, and has been in orbit for eleven years. It's one of the core modules of the station. The press notification from NASA is clearly dated 2000.

    And frankly, NASA was originally talking about ditching the ISS in the sea in 2015.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    We're repeating things on Fox as if they were true now? When did that happen? Wtf would Fox know or care about what's actually happening?

  39. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Possibley the *bigger* news

    NASA look closers to letting Spacex combine their 2 test missions.

    This has been ongoing (IIRC) since late when the NASA administrator announced in a press briefing he was going to have meeting about that decision the following day.

    I guess at NASA you have to have a meeting about having a meeting to decide something. Not quite the "We always ended a meeting with a decision" approach of Apollo/Saturn.

    Incredibly combining 2 short missions seems to need a 6 week mission instead.

    But it's still a (small) step forward.

  40. Parax

    Looks like A Lot of Lost in Translation Here!

    Two questions:

    Q1: what will you do with the ISS at the end of its life? A: sink it.

    Q2: when is end of life? A: it's current mission concludes in 2020 (but future missions could be added.)

    Cue the "wtf the're going to sink it in 2020?"

    Really, Nothing to see here move along.

  41. Marcus Aurelius


    Strap on some thrusters and send it on its way to a Mars orbit.

    I grant it may take a few years to get there and as a result of its travel may need some repairs by the first crew to arrive.

    However, by the time we have the technology to get there, at least we'd have a basic space station to dock at prior to descent to the surface.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Couldn't get to it if it was in geostationary orbit?

    How so? We went to the f*cking Moon!

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge


      Assuming you're not a troll let me explain.

      There is *no* launch vehicle that is a)crew rated and b) big enough to hoist a *returnable* crew rated payload to geosynchronous orbit. Communications satellites go on *one* way trips to that orbit. ISS is at the *top* of the Shuttles altitude range and was part of the reason for the development of the "Super Lightweight" version of the expendable tank. This disregards a slowish trip through the inner Van Allan radiation built at c 1000 Km.

      Doing it is a problem in physics and engineering but doing it *repeatedly* in an affordable and *reliable* manner is a very difficult problem in economics. the last mission BEO which *returned* was "Stardust". You might like to find out how it came down.

      Spacex have talked of a for profit "Apollo 8" style trip on their Dragon capsule on Falcon Heavy (multiple orbits of the Moon, then return) which *would* be in the same sort of delta v range *but*

      a) Falcon Heavy has not flown yet (Simple fact. No reason to think it won't or at the predicted performance level)


      b) Dragon is not crew rated and will need a dozen safe flights and a fully tested crew escape system before it is. The crew escape system is funded (by NASA) and in progress. Again there is no reason to think Spacex cannot deliver what is needed at the spec required.

      The US went to the moon 40 years ago. it shut down production of the Saturn V in 1968. The NASA designed SLS is not expected to fly a crewed mission before 2021 (*if* NASA *keeps* its existing budget and it does not get cut. You may have heard the US Govt is on a bit of an economy drive at the moment).

      If you know of a large, capable, relatively inexpensive crew rated launch vehicle that can fly this mission and is in production you should talk to NASA.

  43. Nigel 11

    What use is the ISS? Alternative roadmap.

    I have to ask this question - what use is it?

    It wasn't necessarily a bad decision to build it. Curiosity is a good motivation. We wanted to see what could be done by human beings living and working long-term in an orbiting laboratory, and the experiment has another 8+ years to run.

    But at present - is there anything we have discovered that we can do there, which we can't do here, or better with unmanned robotic vehicles (such as the Hubble telescope)? And if nothing new is discovered by 2020?

    My guess at the future (if we don't crash our civilisation first) is that the important developments will be here on Earth, with robotics and "AI" (not true intelligence, but much more flexible programs maybe on a par with insects) and IA (intelligence amplification). Then put robots in space, and start them asteroid mining and manufacturing heavy stuff (like more robot bodies so we only have to launch chips and other lightweight high-tech up the gravity well. Eventually we get to O'Neill colonies, and the era of human expansion into space might really arrive. (Alternatively, if brains are not quantum computers, we might work out how to upload ourselves, and then we'll hit a Vingean singularity before we get going in space).

  44. TRT Silver badge

    Well we could...

    Man it with one crazy Russian dude, just in case we need to refuel a couple of space shuttles before they attempt to slingshot around the moon to creep up on a rogue meteor that needs drilling into before we nuke it.

  45. Malcom Ryder 1

    It was reported by Fox news

    Rupert Murdoch owns Fox news, that should say it all, and it was reported just days after the last shuttle landed. Just more fear mongering news manipulation from Fox

  46. Atonnis


    I'm more inclined to believe that this is the Russians making it abundantly clear that they aren't going to carry the costs of the ISS whilst the US steadily decreases it's interest and budget into spaceflight. It's a fairly brutal tactic, but probably the only way to get the message across.

  47. Matthew 17

    The Shuttle And the ISS were just projects to employ engineers

    Neither had a useful function. The Shuttle was a hugely compromised design that failed to meet any of its design objectives. The ISS was supposed to be a permanent platform in space that could be used to build manned crafts that could launch from orbit to the Moon, Mars and beyond, what we had instead was a compromised temporary structure capable of none of these things.

    The Shuttle has finally been sacked off, hopefully someone will build a vehicle that can deliver what the Shuttle was supposed to do without having to wait decades for it.

    But now it's gone and the space station (pretty much) finished, it'll just quietly sit and slowly rot just as Mir did, it's a shame the technology to boost it out of orbit is unlikely to arrive before the station is deemed unsafe and ditched (look how big the Saturn V had to be to send an engine into space capable of the TLI burn to send the tiny Luna craft away from the earth, to push the space station out of orbit would require something huge, but if it could be dumped into an impossibly large orbit through deep space then it would make for an interesting time capsule should anyone or any thing eventually stumbles across it in several millennia from now.

  48. Alan Brown Silver badge

    Mir had fungus

    Fungus that was eating metals and plastics, etc. That's on top of all the other stuff it had wrong (which mainly came down to "so much crap got packed into it over the years there was barely any room left for people")

    By 2020 it's quite likely the oldest parts of ISS will be uninhabitable/unusable. These can be undocked and dumped, but the reality is more likely the whole station will need substantial revamping to the point where a new one is cheaper.

    BTW: Shuttle was primarily intended to be used for building a space station. ISS came more than 20 years late and in the meantime it did a lot of other stuff mainly aimed at justifying its existance.

    The fleet should have been grounded after Challenger. The design was known to be dangerous and it was only made that way to satisfy the US Air Force - who then decided it was too dangeroud to use, so abandoned it as much as possible.

    What's amazing is how much good science has been done with these projects, given they were generally a lot of flag waving and pork, but until we have decently cheap man-rated wayf of getting into space which don't involve shooting a gun at the ground and riding the recoil, the outer atmosphere is going to remain hideously expensive. (Noone has been into "space" proper since Apollo days)

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The announcement is simple....

    ...Russia will take no interest in it after 2020.

    If the US & rest of of world is not willing to fund, maintain and populate it, then we'll ditch it.

    As Fox news still think it's 1965 and all Russian's are commies bastards, of course they will peddle the commies are evil shit.

  50. Nick Pettefar

    Grand Opportunity

    They could convert it into a B-ark!

    There, civilisation fixed overnight. Just need to convert the ATVs to one-way manned use...

  51. Beachrider

    Spinning for sport...

    Wow again...

    I agree with earlier posters that the Russians merely restated something that was already true. The agreed-upon end-of-mission for the ISS is currently on 2020. It has been continued several times already. The USA is proposing continuing it to 2028, but there is no consensus or funding to support that yet. Everything else is adverse inference on the timing of the Russian statement.

    FWIW, the Russians have supported the ISS better than the EU. I am always amazed at EU pundits taking swipes at the commitment of Russia and the USA when the EU commitment is SOOOOO much softer and SOOOO much less money.

    The EU should know that money talks and bullshit walks with the ISS.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge


      "FWIW, the Russians have supported the ISS better than the EU. I am always amazed at EU pundits taking swipes at the commitment of Russia and the USA when the EU commitment is SOOOOO much softer and SOOOO much less money."

      You might like to keep in mind that Thales Alenia based in Turin, Italy *built* 1/2 of the habitable volume of ISS.

      They are also building the pressurized section of the OSC Cygnus cargo carrier based n the MPLM. Now due to have it's *sole* test flight sometime in Q112 on the 2nd flight of the Taurus2 launcher.

      Eliminating the European, Japanese and Russian hardware contributions would leave a pretty small station.

  52. Bango Skank

    it never really did anything other than

    consume massive amount of money and endanger the crew.

    No scientific discoveries were made there despite all the hoopla, and leaving it up in low earth orbit would continue to require massive amounts of energy and cash to prevent it re-entering in an uncontrolled crash.

    Declare victory and just crash the white elephant into the sea after hauling back the atomics

    Fail because it misdirected efforts into manned space travel which is a stone loser at the cost of developing robotic explorers

  53. Beachrider

    RL Parsing...

    NASA did contract to Thales for ISS habitat work and 2nd source on commercial cargo transport (It says on on your referenced page). That doesn't make it EU money, EU commitment and much of the work is done in the USA. The non-habitat costs were dominantly Russian or American. No one says that the EU spent zero on the ISS.

    I don't get the argument. NASA is interested in using Commercial capability to get stuff to the ISS. It is a good idea. I am talking about the governmental entity EU (with $16Tn GDP) doing FAR less for the ISS than USA ($14Tn GDP and Russia $1Tn GDP).

    It is just true.

  54. TopDog64


    Surely by using a VASIMR drive (, the ISS could be placed in a parking orbit at the Earth/Sun L1 Lagrange point. That way the solar panels would keep the batteries charged until the technology for a manned return is possible. Also, this would allow on board instruments to provide a long term study of our own star the Sun.

  55. Beachrider

    The ISS is not designed for that...

    The ISS lacks the shielding to operate outside the Van Allen belt environment. You could boost it out there, but it wouldn't be habitable and the circuits aren't sufficiently shielded.

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