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News Navigator: How much longer will the International Space Station be in use?

The International Space Station is seen flying at a height of about 400 kilometers above ground. (Image courtesy of NASA)

The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have concerning the International Space Station (ISS).

Question: A new U.S. spacecraft has landed on the ISS, bringing along with it a fresh team of astronauts. Will it be possible for me to also go to the ISS and experience living in outer space someday?

Answer: You must be talking about the Crew Dragon spacecraft that was successfully launched by the American company SpaceX at the end of May. Although the general public has come one step closer to being able to enjoy trips to space, the ISS is becoming old and worn, and it is not guaranteed that members of the public will be able to set foot on it.

Q: I see. So, until when will the ISS be in usage?

A: Construction of the ISS began in 1998. The space station consists of residential units and laboratory modules that the United States and Russia played central roles in building, among other sections. Other compartments have been extensively added, and the core parts of the station were completed by 2011. Although the life expectancies of the facilities are not all the same, it is estimated that the ISS could be used at least until around 2030. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has determined that the Japanese experiment module, known as Kibo, will also be able to continue operations until 2030.

Q: So, 10 more years, hey?

A: Regular satellites reach their durability limits due to factors including fuel supply exhaustion and battery deterioration, but fuel and batteries can be delivered to the ISS by transfer vehicles. As facility components can also be replaced, it may be possible to extend the period of its usage. However, it is a fact that the ISS is gradually deteriorating.

Q: How will the space station be disposed of?

A: Russia discarded the Mir space station by plunging it into the Earth's atmosphere and burning it, but parts of the remnants fell into the South Pacific. No specifics are yet decided for the disposal of the ISS.

Q: Will space stations no longer exist?

A: On the contrary, they will likely increase. China, Russia, and India have respective proposals, and there are also space hotel projects on the agenda among U.S. private companies. The United States also has in store plans for a space station that orbits the moon, which Japan plans to join.

(Japanese original by Tomohiro Ikeda, Science & Environment News Department)

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