International Space Station
Sean Cate
Sean Cate
July 9, 2024 ·  3 min read

NASA Will Pay SpaceX Up to $843 Million to Destroy the International Space Station

NASA has announced a partnership with SpaceX to manage the decommissioning of the International Space Station (ISS). This collaboration, involving a contract worth up to $843 million, is set to end in the destruction of the ISS by 2030.1 The process will ensure the space station does not pose a hazard to populated areas on Earth, with the ISS being directed to a remote region of the Pacific Ocean known as Point Nemo. This decision marks a significant milestone in space exploration and underscores the ongoing evolution of human activities in low Earth orbit.

The Role of SpaceX in Deorbiting the Space Station

International Space Station above Earth
Credit: NASA

Elon Musk‘s SpaceX has been entrusted with the critical task of creating a ‘deorbit’ vehicle. This spacecraft will be designed to lower the ISS’s orbit, guiding it safely into the Pacific Ocean at Point Nemo, a location already known as a spacecraft graveyard. This site, over 1,550 miles from the nearest land, has previously been used for disposing of space debris, ensuring a minimal risk to human life.

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The Strategic Significance of Point Nemo

sunset over the ocean
Credit: Pexels

Point Nemo is uniquely suited for such missions. Named after the captain in Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” it serves as the final resting place for over 263 pieces of space debris.2 This remote location minimizes the potential impact of any falling debris, making it the ideal choice for deorbiting large structures like the ISS.

Deorbiting A Space Station

Astronauts inside the ISS
Credit: NASA

The planned deorbiting process will involve several stages. Initially, the space station will lower itself to an altitude of roughly 205 miles. Subsequently, as the final crew members prepare to leave, the SpaceX vehicle will launch, attaching to the vacant ISS. Over the course of a year, this vehicle will gradually reduce the station’s altitude, ensuring it enters the atmosphere at a controlled speed and trajectory to minimize debris scatter.

Challenges and Alternatives Considered

cosmonauts floating in space
Credit: NASA

Various alternatives to decommissioning the ISS were considered. Other options included recycling the station, selling it privately, or preserving it in a higher orbit for historical analysis. However, legal, financial, and technical complexities rendered these options impractical, leading NASA to opt for a controlled deorbiting process.

Read More: NASA detects new carbon compound in space for the first time

Historical Precedents and Comparisons

Russia's Mir space station
Credit: JSC

The decommissioning of the ISS is not unprecedented. In 2001, Russia’s Mir space station, which operated since 1986, was similarly guided and crashed into Point Nemo. The successful deorbiting of Mir provides a model for the planned ISS decommissioning. The precedent demonstrates both the feasibility and safety of this approach.

Space Stations and Space Exploration

Astronaut in space
Credit: Pexels

This decision aligns with NASA’s broader strategy to support future commercial destinations in low Earth orbit. Ken Bowersox, the associate administrator for the Space Operations Mission Directorate at NASA, emphasized that selecting a US Deorbit Vehicle will ensure a safe and responsible transition, facilitating ongoing exploration and commercial activities in space.

The Legacy of the ISS

Space station and satellite in space
Credit: Pexels

Since its launch, the space station has symbolized international cooperation and scientific advancement. Astronauts from various nations have conducted over 3,300 experiments, contributing to our understanding of space and benefiting life on Earth. As it approaches the end of its operational life, the ISS continues to be a blueprint for future space endeavors.


rocket launching into space
Credit: Pixabay

The partnership between NASA and SpaceX marks the end of an era in space exploration. This carefully planned process demonstrates the importance of responsible space operations and paves the way for future commercial space stations. As we look to the future, let us glean lessons from the ISS to inspire and guide humanity beyond Earth.

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  1. NASA Will Pay SpaceX Up to $843 Million to Destroy the International Space Station.” Smithsonian Mag. Christian Thorsberg. July 2, 2024.
  2. Musk’s SpaceX hired to destroy ISS space station.” BBC. Jonathan Amos. June 27, 2024.
  3. NASA Selects SpaceX to Destroy the International Space Station.” Scientifis American. Meghan Bartels. June 27, 2024.
  4. NASA Selects International Space Station US Deorbit Vehicle.” NASA.
    Abbey A. Donaldson. June 26, 2024.