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NASA requests proposals from private industry for deorbiting ISS

NASA on September 18, 2023 sent out a request for proposals from private industry for methods for deorbiting the International Space Station (ISS), with a deadline for such proposals of November 17, 2023.

You can review the request here. According to the press release at the first link, the bulk of any contract will be fixed price.

To maximize value to the government and enhance competition, the acquisition will allow offerors flexibility in proposing Firm Fixed Price or Cost Plus Incentive Fee for the Design, Development, Test and Evaluation phase. The remainder of the contract will be Firm Fixed Price.

That the development phase might be cost-plus allows a lot of room for budget growth, however, especially since the companies most likely to want such a contract are the old big companies (Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman) that routinely go overbudget and behind schedule.

The full proposal is more than 600 pages long, so I have not reviewed it in its entirety. I wonder therefore if NASA would entertain proposals that include salvaging any ISS modules for use on other space stations.

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On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

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  • David M. Cook

    Why not put it in Lunar orbit, instead? Might take some time, but anything is better than just throwing it away!

  • pzatchok

    It would be cheaper for NASA to find a was top break it up and let it be scrapped by private companies.
    IE re used.
    Leave the private companies to de orbit anything they can not save safely.

  • Jeff Wright

    The truss at least saved.

    ISS should not be chunked.

  • DJ

    Rename it Artemis. Move to lunar orbit and save a few billion on the way (plus all that time).

  • Milt

    To David, et al.

    Indeed, why *not* move the ISS — or at least significant parts of it — to a lunar orbit?

    Quoting Robert A. Heinlein, “Get to low-Earth orbit and you’re halfway to anywhere in the solar system.” And with the moon, you are a
    *lot* closer than halfway.

    So, as pzatchok suggests, solicit proposals for adaptive reuse instead. From an engineering perspective (help from Robert and others needed), what factors would mitigate against moving the ISS in whole or in parts to a lunar orbit, and how much fuel would be required for this kind of orbital transfer*? In any case, at least for the moment, it sounds like another job for SpaceX.

    *For those with good memories, Homer Hickam, Jr. wrote a novel back in 1999 based on what it would take to fly a Shuttle from low earth orbit to the moon, and his engineering analysis seemed pretty sound. Sadly, nobody took the bait, and we have yet to send humans back to the moon. Strangely, nobody even made a movie based on his rollicking, barn-burner of a book. Too bad.

    But, once again, the lovely folks in NASA / the Biden Administration would probably be horrified at the prospect at anything that would give the evil, racist, planet-killing United States any advantage in the race to open up the Solar System to human endeavor. No, better to just let the ISS burn up as a “symbol” of how we are expiating our sins.

  • pzatchok

    All of the modules already leak, not just the Russian ones. The Russian ones are the worst though.

    So by moving them out of the Earths orbit would make maintenance and resupply dang near impossible.

    But the modules could one by one be replaced, maintained and updated by a private firm much easier.

    The truss, docking collars and solar panels could then be used until they literally fall apart.

  • Milt

    Pzatchok has a point. But how, then, will we maintain and supply anything in lunar orbit, even if it is of new construction?

    Someday, going from low earth orbit to the moon will become just as routine — and probably even cheaper — than getting into earth orbit, and that will “solve” the maintenance and supply problem. My memory isn’t *that* good, but a lot of such things were talked and written about back in the 1950s at the dawn of the First Space Age, and the engineering concepts haven’t changed that much. Again, once you do the hard work of getting into low earth orbit, getting to the moon is pretty much a piece of cake in comparison.

    Who knows, in another few decades, even NASA bureaucrats may rediscover this amazing concept.

    PS — While the SSTO concept (cf, the X-33) didn’t exactly pan out, G. Harry Stein’s book Halfway to Anywhere: Achieving America’s Destiny in Space, is still very much a good read.

    and a nice review essay that sounds like Robert might have penned it:

    Take heart. The Second Space Age *is* being driven by the private sector, and even the brain-dead politicians can’t change the laws of physics however much they might believe that they can.

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