Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
ISS Space Technology

How Long Can the ISS Last? 112

Posted by timothy
from the delaying-the-heat-death-of-this-part-of-the-universe dept.
R3d M3rcury writes with the story that "NASA and Boeing, along with other nations, are studying the feasibility of keeping the International Space Station in orbit until 2020 and possibly until 2028 — the 30 year anniversary of the launch of the first module." From the article: "To assess the long-term structural health of the station, Boeing engineers developed detailed computer models based on NASA's projected use -- the expected stresses caused by future dockings, reboosts, crew activity and thermal cycles -- and combined that with actual data from on-board accelerometers and strain gauges. ... "What we're looking at is theoretical crack growth," Pamela McVeigh, the engineer in charge of the Boeing structural analysis in Houston, told CBS News. "So the failure mode would be you'd have a crack beginning, probably (at) a bolt hole, and the crack would grow to another edge. So you'd lose like a flange on a C-beam, or an I-beam. The stiffness of your structure would then change, the bolt hole you that you were growing the crack out of, now that bolt wouldn't be effective."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

How Long Can the ISS Last?

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 21, 2013 @06:58AM (#44910805)

    The US have given up on space. The NASA budget is treated as pork, with no thought of genuine long-term progress.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The ISS originated with the Russian space station program anyway, as a successor to Mir. Had the US not been been included in this project back then, I doubt that NASA would have had much interest in a space station.

      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        ISS developed around a design that emerged under Clinton (option A, aka Alpha), which followed on from the Freedom Space Station work, which itself followed from the "Space Station '84" project that was sold to Reagan.

        Where on Earth did you get the idea that NASA wasn't interested in a space station?

        • by dbIII (701233) on Saturday September 21, 2013 @07:55AM (#44910939)

          Where on Earth did you get the idea that NASA wasn't interested in a space station?

          Western Australia July 11 1979
          Or if you prefer, the 8th of February 1974 off the coast of San Diego when the last mission finished.
          They showed so much of a lack of interest that they threw a working space station away despite having enough Saturn V stages to move it into a higher orbit and five years to do it in.

      • by terjeber (856226)
        Are you on drugs?
    • by Osgeld (1900440)

      that is because they have not had any long term progress, dont know why its hard for people to notice this

      • because they have not had any long term progress

        The history of NASA

        1 - Go to the moon.
        2 - Go into low-earth orbit.
        3 - Have no heavy lift capability

        What's next, build an optical hand-held telescope to figure out what the big round thing we once thought was cheese is?

        Has nobody noticed that at NASA time is running backwards? Assuming that a government entity can accomplish anything at all if its goal is not extremely narrow and we are at war with virtually unlimited budgets, is absurd.

  • Urgh. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dnwq (910646) on Saturday September 21, 2013 @07:28AM (#44910871)
    God, we're going to keep that thing up there until it disintegrates and kill everyone aboard, aren't we? Just because no politician wants to be the one to pull the plug, even though they would hardly vote for an ISS today. Then we'll pat ourselves on the back for humanity's heroism and then go right back to fighting over the pale blue dot.
  • by GrpA (691294) on Saturday September 21, 2013 @07:28AM (#44910873)

    It would be nice if they could use the existing one as a site-office to begin building an even bigger one with a longer life expectancy. Use better materials, a piece at a time, and start building a replacement.

    14 years isn't far from now. So what then? Start from scratch again? Seems a shame when they could begin stockpiling for the next generation and have it well underway by the time it comes to decommission the existing ISS.

    GrpA

    • by dbIII (701233) on Saturday September 21, 2013 @07:43AM (#44910907)
      Since it's modular it should be a matter of replacing a bit at a time, barring the sort of politics that stopped such a thing being done with Mir, which also had some relatively new modules.
    • by bossk538 (1682744)

      I would assume the risk of catastrophic failure would preclude it's use as an on-site office. However, keeping it up would yield invaluable data as to what components do fail and how, as well as what parts and systems do hold up very well.

      • I would assume the risk of catastrophic failure would preclude it's use as an on-site office. However, keeping it up would yield invaluable data as to what components do fail and how, as well as what parts and systems do hold up very well.

        Do we seem a little too risk averse these days? I would think that the "risk of catastrophic failure" would be enough to justify not building the damn thing in the first place, given todays risk averse climate.

        At the very least, even if a lot of it falls apart, the end of life plan should be to boost the thing to a Lagrange point, rather than deorbiting it.

        • At the very least, even if a lot of it falls apart, the end of life plan should be to boost the thing to a Lagrange point, rather than deorbiting it.

          DeltaV to deorbit ISS - DeltaV to move ISS to L4/L5 - >3160 m/s.

          One of those is MUCH easier than the other....

        • by Sollord (888521)

          The ISS lacks the required shielding to be usable anywhere other than it's current orbit so moving it's is a total waste of time and money and it would be a giant hunk of space debris for any new missions to L4/L5 points

          • by tlambert (566799)

            The ISS lacks the required shielding to be usable anywhere other than it's current orbit so moving it's is a total waste of time and money and it would be a giant hunk of raw materials for any new missions to L4/L5 points

            Fixed that for you...

    • Considering the ISS was built where and how it was built due to the US space shuttle program, it may not make a good starting point for whatever technologies will be involved with the next space station.
      • by AikonMGB (1013995)

        The ISS's inclination is actually as high as it is to allow the Russian launch vehicles to be able to make the trip; the use of the STS merely capped how polar they could go.

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      China is building a space station. They would have joined the ISS project if the US hadn't blocked them. It's basically US pride that is holding everything back.

      • China is building a space station. They would have joined the ISS project if the US hadn't blocked them. It's basically US pride that is holding everything back.

        It wasn't just the U.S. government that wasn't interested in having China join. There is also a concern by both Russia and America about the quality of any potential modules and spacecraft that would be attaching itself to the ISS in any docking procedure... and it was Roscosmos that would have taken the largest burden for such activities as the Chinese Shenzhou spacecraft would have most easily docked with the Russian segment rather than conforming to the American docking ports.

        It was much more than pride at stake here, and while NASA officials were certainly the most vocal in opposition to Chinese participation, there were many other obstacles to getting Chinese astronauts on the ISS. If anything, it was also Chinese pride that sort of shot the whole project down too as they didn't want to be treated as a junior partner in the endeavor as well.

        If the ESA and Roscosmos had wanted the Chinese Space Agency involved in the ISS, I'm sure it would have happened. There are other countries involved besides just Russia and America.

    • by fritsd (924429)
      Yeah, and they could call it .. I dunno... OPSEK [wikipedia.org] or something. (Clever idea BTW to have the central Lego pieces be the most multi-functional)
  • by wjcofkc (964165) on Saturday September 21, 2013 @07:54AM (#44910937)
    Regardless of when the ISS is retired, I can only hope that the powers that be have the good sense to push it into a higher orbit. Someday space travel will be accessible and we will have orbital museums and when that time comes we will regret a good number of historical items the were de-orbited. Honestly we should have kept and boosted into higher orbit one of the last space shuttle launches along with an external tank, since the external tanks are perfectly capable of making it to orbit. Basically wrap them in shielding and stow them away in high orbit until their time as accessible historical artifacts comes. There is a lot that will simply have to be re-created as mock ups, considering the sheer importance of this early age in space travel, it won't be the same but will be better than nothing. In the fifth grade I had the surreal honor of holding a piece of the Berlin wall as it was passed around class. I will never forget the sense of historical understanding that washed over me. If it had been a replica, I would have still found sentiment, but it would not have been the same.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Okay, how? This "shielding" you speak of, of "high orbit"... that sounds like it takes more work than building the thing in the first place! The cracks they speak of are just thermal fatigue cracking that exists in all materials, just in Earth orbit it is extremely rapid.

    • That'd be like leaving a sunken ship in a harbor... it makes a great museum, but it can cause a lot of danger if you're not careful. It works for the USS Arizona and a handful of others, but it's a thousand times as dangerous to leave stuff in space to rot... especially since without regular maintenance, it will likely completely deteriorate long before we have the means to turn it into any sort of museum. If you want to go that route, the safest thing to do would probably be to crash it onto the moon inste

      • by rossdee (243626)

        "If you want to go that route, the safest thing to do would probably be to crash it onto the moon instead... at least more of it will be recoverable than leaving it in orbit or letting it crash to Earth."

        I guess you don't understand orbital dynamics, it would take a huge amount of fuel to get it to a lunar orbit. (or even to get it to earth escape velocity.

      • by wjcofkc (964165)
        Even it if it did 'deteriorate' before it could become a museum, studying that deterioration could prove invaluable. Also, I am not talking about keeping these in a habitable condition, outside viewing only. Further, no matter how long it's left to the radiation of space, it's not going to magically fly apart. Also, most hazardous space junk is in lower orbits.
      • by Teancum (67324)

        An ideal orbit for the ISS would be one of the LaGrangian points "near" the Moon (L4 or L5), It would be out of the way for anything that would be put into space for a long time, and quite possibly it could eventually be salvaged for parts and/or sheer mass for any future endeavors in that part of the Solar System. The nice thing about those locations is that you don't even need to worry about any regular maintenance except for perhaps keeping the vehicle operational if that might even remotely be a goal,

    • by mbenzi (410594)

      In regard to the Space Shuttle, I have said the same thing since they decided to retire the fleet. It seems the greatest cost of having things in space has always been getting them off the ground. There was no reason to bring the shuttles back once we knew they weren't going to be used again. I remember that, besides the Smithsonian, many institutions complained about how expensive it would be just for annual maintenance to keep a shuttle on display.

      So, as you suggested, they should have moved it to a hig

      • by CohibaVancouver (864662) on Saturday September 21, 2013 @09:07AM (#44911171)

        There was no reason to bring the shuttles back once we knew they weren't going to be used again

        And what about the little matter of the crews on board the Orbiters? We weren't bringing the Orbiters back, we were bringing the CREWS back.

      • by wjcofkc (964165)
        Finally, I voice without pessimism. The lack of spirit of adventure and inability to dream on slashdot is often astounding.
        • by Hartree (191324)

          Why would most slashdotters want a space program?

          They can just stay at home and play Kerbal Space Program. It's a lot easier and you can get pizza delivered. ;)

          (In my pessimistic moments, I wonder if rather than a technological singularity, we won't have a great stagnation with everyone opting for VR rather than the real world.)

        • There are 2 reasons for that change:
          1) Generational dreams change along with technology. Every world-changing invention has gone through an initial several decades of being awe-inspiring (with the periodic tragedy) before it became commonplace enough for rich people to do it for fun. I'm in my mid-late 30s, and that's what manned trips into space have qualified as since I was a little kid: no otherwise-impossible scientific advancements, two full crews of brilliant people killed (one with at least half th

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      In order to prevent it from becoming a hazard you'd have to cover the whole damned thing in shielding. The only viable way to do that with current technologies is probably to surround it in those inflatable modules that Bigelow wanted to build; anything else would be too heavy for basically no payoff. Good luck getting umpteen launches of those going

      • by Teancum (67324)

        Why would it need to be covered? The point is that the ISS is going to be abandoned in place somehow, most likely at the bottom of the Pacific right now.

        The only real concern would be potentially having the ISS break apart a little bit at a time, and those individual parts becoming separate pieces of debris in space. Boosting the ISS up to a higher orbit (no mention at how high) simply makes it possible to abandon the station without any further maintenance or cost, even though the initial boosting would

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          The only real concern would be potentially having the ISS break apart a little bit at a time, and those individual parts becoming separate pieces of debris in space.

          But that is in fact a real concern, one that can't simply be waved away. The station is designed to be powered; I'd imagine that abandoning it will cause it to deteriorate even faster. One day when we have repulsor technology or whatever magical wand is waved, we can worry less about debris and then that sort of thing will be a viable option. Until then, burning it up is the most responsible thing to do.

  • This probably explains why Pan Am has been postponing my trip to the station since 2001.

  • by mbone (558574) on Saturday September 21, 2013 @08:29AM (#44911055)

    It may be sent elsewhere, but the ISS is going to be around for a long, long time. Remember, the Russians own a good chunk of it, and they don't believe in giving up on functional assets. If NASA ever is forced out, watch the US modules being transferred to the Russians for $ 1 or something like that.

  • by lennier1 (264730) on Saturday September 21, 2013 @08:58AM (#44911141)

    Looking at the track record of the Mir station, the Russian-made parts will probably far outlive ours.

  • by usuallylost (2468686) on Saturday September 21, 2013 @09:12AM (#44911181)

    Hopefully they continue to work on it and refurbish it. If we are ever going to have a robust long term presence in space we are going to have to learn how to build reliable structures that can be repaired and maintained over the long term. The IIS seems like a perfect test bed for that sort of development and we already have a huge sunk cost so why not use it?

    • by kermidge (2221646)

      There is a tendency on the part of many to consider that designing, building, and maintaining structures in space to be a done deal - simply order up what you want and that's it. What we are finding after all these years is that prolonged exposure of materials to space is still often a matter of unforeseen consequences. While experimental work on Earth and various theories of how materials behave have been useful even if only to present the range of possibilities we are continually finding new behaviours.

  • by PNutts (199112) on Saturday September 21, 2013 @10:38AM (#44911543)

    The stiffness of your structure would then change, the bolt hole you that you were growing the crack out of, now that bolt wouldn't be effective.

    That's what she said.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    excellent opportunity to develop the technologies for repair in space that are needed for further exploration.

  • by fritsd (924429) on Saturday September 21, 2013 @01:24PM (#44912415) Journal
    What happened to the NASA/Ad Astra plan to launch an experimental 200 kW VASIMR [wikipedia.org], strap it to the ISS, and use it to boost the station to higher orbit?

    Has it just not happened yet because it doesn't actually work, or because you'd need more solar panels for the required energy, or what?
    • by Megane (129182)

      Maybe you could actually read the page you linked to?

      As of June 2012, its launch is anticipated to be in 2015,[20] the Antares rocket has been reported as the "top contender" for the launch vehicle.[21] Since the available power from the ISS is less than 200 kW, the ISS VASIMR will include a trickle-charged battery system allowing for 15 min pulses of thrust."

      Wow, both of your questions answered in the same paragraph!

      • by fritsd (924429)
        Yes, I was kind of hoping that some insider from NASA or Ad Astra or another ISS participant would comment about what progress has been made since June 2012 which is 15 months ago.
  • by Dereck1701 (1922824) on Saturday September 21, 2013 @04:32PM (#44913305)

    I don't know how long NASA will want to keep ISS in space (hopefully longer than the stated end of mission parameters though) but the Russians have already stated their desire that if NASA does decide they want to shutdown/deorbit ISS they are going to try to detach their modules and start a "new" Russian space complex, OPSEK (Orbital Piloted Assembly and Experiment Complex). Personally I'm a bit confused, even the oldest parts on ISS are only 15 years old. Does equipment really degrade that fast in orbit? I would think electronics would be the first to go, but they should be fairly modular making most of them easy to replace. Even if an entire module became structurally/electrically unsound, in many cases detaching it from the station and deorbiting it while keeping the rest of the complex active would seem quite easy. The only exceptions to this may be a few of the core modules or nodes, even those would not be out of the question, it would just be a question of sending up a new node or core module and moving unaffected modules to the new core/node.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      ISS's structure is mostly aluminum which does NOT have infinite life(steel does) and will fatigue with time. see:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fatigue_(material)
      The structure WILL break apart sooner or later. Fatigue is an issue in addition to crack growth

  • Is anyone surprised? I see the ISS as only slightly less a political "creature of malignant compromises" than the abysmal shuttle was (and is a direct result of many of those, mind you). A "space station" at 230 miles is about as permanent as floating a buoy 25' from shore; it's practically disposable and should have been expected to be so.

When you don't know what to do, walk fast and look worried.

Working...