Wednesday, May 1, 2024

NASA Looking for Funding to De-Orbit Space Station

On one hand, de-orbiting the ISS isn't going to be hard. Get everyone and everything that's valued in any way out of it and stop those periodic missions to lift its orbit. It'll come down eventually. As the song says, "what goes up, must come down."  

Oh, wait. You want a controlled de-orbiting? Not like the way China does these things, but controlled so we can have a pretty good chance of not killing people or breaking valuable things on the ground? Well, that's gonna cost you. 

A roundabout and satirical way of introducing the story that NASA Administrator Bill Nelson is lobbying congress for more money to de-orbit the ISS.  The real problem is that some congress critters with some common sense are trying cut spending and Nelson can't see a way to do all of what NASA wants with the spending caps he has been faced with. 

The caps, in place for the 2024 and 2025 fiscal years, limit non-defense discretionary spending and were part of a deal enacted nearly a year ago in the Fiscal Responsibility Act to raise the debt ceiling. “These two years, ’24 and ’25, NASA has been cut between the two years $4.7 billion from our original request,” he said. “That’s going to have an effect on some of the contracts at all NASA centers.”

NASA, in its fiscal year 2024 budget request, sought $27.185 billion for the agency and projected requesting $27.729 billion in 2025. NASA received $24.875 billion in the final 2024 appropriations bill enacted in March and is requesting $25.384 billion in 2025, a difference of nearly $4.7 billion from the original projections last year.

In particular, this circles around a project called the United States Deorbit Vehicle (USDV), a spacecraft NASA plans to develop to handle the final deorbiting of the International Space Station at the end of the station’s life. That's been talked about as being 2030. 

NASA had requested $180 million for USDV in its fiscal 2024 budget request and $109 million for it in the 2025 request. Nelson, though, told members NASA wanted to get full funding for the vehicle as part of a domestic emergency supplemental spending bill proposed by the White House last fall for disaster relief and other purposes, but yet to be considered by Congress.

First thought: Bill, don't let the SLS folks near this. You want $289 million over two years? I know that can't be anything but a study, so don't let the SLS team touch those studies. Their version of the USDV will cost billions more than they bid and left to themselves it wouldn't be ready until 30 years after the station comes down randomly on its own. 

Second thought: don't go with the argument that we need this to protect us from Putin. It's a pretty sad line that reeks of a lack of imagination.

“Why is it an emergency?” he said. “Because we don’t know what Vladimir Putin is going to do.”

He suggested Russia might terminate its role on the ISS early or decide not to participate in the controlled deorbiting of the station. “We don’t know what the president of Russia is going to do, and we could be in an emergency situation that we have to get this structure that is as big as a football stadium down, and down safely, in 2031.”

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, April 30, in congressional meetings. Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

For those who don't know, Bill Nelson used to be our local US representative and lived somewhere not too far from here on "the Space Coast." The first place we ever saw him was in a church in the northern part of Melbourne. He's a schmoozer, a politician. Don't depend on him to make difficult decisions. He can, however, put together a team of bright, accomplished people and let them make the decisions he can't.


  1. Years ago the Taxed Enough Already (TEA) party protested federal spending cuts at Cape Canaveral. That's all you need to know about conservatives: their complaint is they aren't the ones deciding how to spend other peoples' money.

    1. Well, at the time the Cape was actually doing things and there's a helluva lot of infrastructure at said Cape that needed to be maintained if we were ever going to fly anything larger than a sounding rocket from it.

      What the TEA party people were protesting were stupid things like government funded studies on stickiness of ketchup, or climate change, or funding the Department of Education or the BATFE or the EPA and so forth and so on.

  2. I am actually kind of surprised as to how normal and sane and practical that jackass Bill Nelson, who held the NASA budget hostage until they let him take a shuttle ride, has been in running NASA. He knows enough to ask good people to help him.

    And at least Nelson is trying to get things set up now for when the ISS will eventually be deorbited.

    Heck, I'd say if Russia pulls out, drop the damned thing on said Russia.

    1. Heck, I'd say whatever happens, just drop it on New York City instead.
      The world and the country would be FAR better off!

    2. Oh NYFC, LA, Portland, Seattle, Chicongo, Atlanta, Austen, Houston, Boston, DC, pretty much any of the major democrat-run cities in this country.

  3. Come on folks, talk to Elon about reserving a couple of Starship launches for 2030-31. He will get it done for the bid price with inflation adjustment rlder. Save money, time and headaches.
    Ole Grump

  4. James Webb didn't have an engineering background, though I believe he was a pilot.

  5. They use certain crew/cargo vehicles to boost the ISS when needed. Just do the opposite when the last crew leaves, problem solved. I'm sure they will have plenty of obsolete Boeing Starliners laying around by then. Or just have the russian use a progress vehicle to do it.

  6. Sell it. "Fixer-upper with great views".

  7. Just put it in one of the Lagrange points for future salvage, its already up there, nothing wasted that way. a Holman orbit is real cheap deltaV wise. Could put it in a Holman orbit into the sun too. Holman orbits take awhile, might be 20 years, but thats no big deal, once on it's trajectory it's out of the way. Lot of high grade materials, metals particularly, on that station, aluminum alloys are wicked easy to re-smelt, 1,435 F is aluminums melt point, seems a crying shame, stupid really, to let it all burn up. What are these people thinking? They have no sense of thrift or future re-use?