U.S., Russia Close to Completing Technical Assessment of Flying ISS through 2028

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WASHINGTON — Key industry players are getting close to declaring the parts of the international space station (ISS) for which they are responsible fit to fly through 2028, at which time the oldest parts of the orbital outpost will be 30 years old.

“We’ve already done most of the 2028 analysis and it’s come back just fine, certainly for all the pressurized modules and the truss and things like that,” John Shannon, Boeing’s ISS program manager, said in a Sept. 18 phone interview. 

A final report from Boeing on flight worthiness through 2028 should be in NASA’s hands around January, Shannon said. 

Boeing has already certified that the modules on the U.S. segment of ISS are good to go through 2020, and “in the process of doing the 2020 analysis, we’ve already cleared most of the modules for 2028,” Shannon said. 

“I see no show-stoppers at all,” Shannon added, though he did acknowledge that certain parts of the space station are beginning to show their age. The outpost’s solar panels, for example, have taken a walloping from passing micrometeoroids, but “we still have sufficient electrical capability to utilize the station [through 2028] with the arrays we have now,” he said.

That is a good thing, because no spacecraft currently flying has enough space aboard to transport a replacement set to orbit, a member of the NASA-chartered ISS Advisory Council said during a Sept. 3 teleconference.

The arrays “are too big to carry in anything except the shuttle cargo bay,” Charles Daniel, a Huntsville, Ala.-based consultant for the firm Valador Inc., said on the call.

Also on the call, retired Apollo astronaut Thomas Stafford, now head of the ISS Advisory Committee, said the station’s Russian segment is also close to receiving an all-clear from contractor RSC Energia of Moscow to continue operations through 2028. 

“By December of 2013 they expect to have certification completed for all Russians systems and hardware through 2028,” Stafford said on the Sept. 3 call, citing briefings to the committee from Energia and the Russian space agency’s Advisory Expert Council during a July visit to Moscow. “The Russians did not expect or foresee any issues at this time.”

Energia built the station’s core Zarya module, which launched in November 1998 aboard a Proton rocket. The U.S.-supplied Unity module followed a month later aboard the space shuttle, setting in motion the on-orbit assembly phase that culminated in 2011 with the final space shuttle mission. 

The heads of the U.S., Russian, European, Japanese and Canadian space agencies agreed in 2010 to continue operating ISS through 2020 and to review their on-orbit hardware with the goal of certifying it for use through 2028.

NASA officials have said extending space station operations through 2028 has budget implications that would need to be reflected in the agency’s 2015 request, which is expected to be sent to Congress in February.