Elon Musk to destroy the International Space Station – with NASA's approval, for a fee

SpaceX wins contract for 'deorbit vehicle' at a pleasing price

Elon Musk's SpaceX has won a NASA contract to de-orbit the International Space Station (ISS).

The aerospace agency announced the deal on Wednesday, and that it will see SpaceX "develop and deliver" a vehicle "that will provide the capability to deorbit the space station and ensure avoidance of risk to populated areas."

After SpaceX builds the "deorbit vehicle," NASA will take ownership of it and operate it.

NASA sought bids for the deorbit vehicle in September 2023. The craft is needed because NASA and other ISS stakeholders have decided the orbital habitat is past its prime, with smaller and privately-owned space labs seen as superior options for future exploration.

The station masses over 400,000 kilograms – vastly more than the 2,600 kilograms of spent batteries that were deorbited in 2021 but didn't all burn up in Earth's atmosphere. Around 750 grams of material whacked the roof of a Florida home, leading to a lawsuit seeking $80,000 to cover the cost of repairs and other expenses.

The ISS is large enough that debris could do a lot more damage than just punching a hole in one roof – which is why NASA wanted a specialized craft to make sure the job is done right first time.

NASA's initial estimate for the vehicle and the operation needed to kill the ISS was just under a billion dollars.

NASA's announcement of the deal sates the "single-award contract has a total potential value of $843 million," leaving some headroom for other mission costs – including the price of launching the vehicle.

NASA and the other ISS partner agencies don't mind if the deorbit vehicle is an entirely new craft, or adapts an existing design.

Elon Musk – who acknowledged the contract award with a re-Xeet – hasn't offered any clues about SpaceX's plans.

Whatever the company creates, it needs to be ready by 2029 – ahead of a planned 2030 push to send the ISS to a fiery grave.

NASA, meanwhile, is trying to figure out when it can deorbit something far smaller: the Boeing-built Starliner capsule that's been deemed unfit to fly other than in an emergency. ISS crew have a couple of spacewalks planned, which will likely push Starliner's departure into July at the earliest. ®

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