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What would happen if the astronauts on the ISS stopped maintaining it, and no further vehicles or remote control commands were sent up from the ground? I'd like to know what systems would stop working, what would burn out, fail, jam, freeze, overflow, etc, at what point the astronauts would die, and in what order the station would break down into a heap of unrecoverable junk.

To prolong this experiment, let's assume it was in a much higher orbit so orbital decay wouldn't become terminal for hundreds of years. I am just interested in the process of decay, and if/when a steady state eventually gets reached, what would be salvageable and what would be ruined.

If you can, please format an answer as a rough timeline or chain of events, with guesses as to the durations, and comments on interesting events where appropriate. Answer should include much info on the main life support failures, but also cover the other subsystems, and can span hundreds of years if necessary. Please include: power generation, truss bearings, cooling, stations attitude, pressure, water and o2 content, long term viability of electrical systems should power ever be restored.. What is no longer salvageable and repairable after 10years, 20, 50..

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    $\begingroup$ Related: space.stackexchange.com/q/17196/58 $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Aug 31 '17 at 12:10
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    $\begingroup$ Everyone is welcome to assemble resources to answer the question in this meta discussion: space.meta.stackexchange.com/q/906/58 $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Aug 31 '17 at 12:55
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    $\begingroup$ Related: How long would ISS stay in orbit if it didn't get reboosts? $\endgroup$ – armatita Aug 31 '17 at 15:31
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    $\begingroup$ @armatita Given that information, the setup of this question ("To prolong this experiment, let's ignore atmospheric drag which could de-orbit the station.") would require that the station somehow continue to perform station-keeping. Innovine, should we consider the impact of that station-keeping on the ISS as it ages, or should we just presume that the ISS is magically held in orbit and that station-keeping has ceased? $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Aug 31 '17 at 20:32
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    $\begingroup$ @armatita It's interesting, but the slow degradation must already be accounted for in the planned lifetime of the station anyway. The rate of decay due to radiation damage is not going to change just because the maintenance stops, I guess. $\endgroup$ – Innovine Sep 1 '17 at 10:38
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It would slowly come down into the atmosphere and burn up. There is also the possibility that pieces of it will reach the surface of the earth. But probably before that, the ISS will be hit by space debris, as no one will control it to maneuver the ISS away from the junk. Once the amount of junk is big enough, it will keep smashing into each other and create a whole lot of space junk. This is why it will be de-orbited to point Nemo in the pacific, the place that is the furthest from any inhabited land, after the final mission. Water and oxygen probably will not run out since it's not used as extensively. For the power: as long as the systems aren't damaged, it will be available. The main solar panel gimbal system is fully automatic. I think it'll be over for the ISS once completely left alone in about 15 years. But the space debris issue is the most important one, the ISS doesn't automatically move out of the way, but once upcoming debris is detected it can be moved from Earth, to avoid collision. I can't seem to find anything about how often this happens, though.

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  • $\begingroup$ en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mir - They deorbit them to prevent uncontrolled descent, Mir is a good article in wikipedia about why they handle it how they do. $\endgroup$ – Magic Octopus Urn Apr 2 '18 at 21:49
  • $\begingroup$ Exactly as you said, just need a source :) $\endgroup$ – Magic Octopus Urn Apr 2 '18 at 21:57

protected by Community Feb 21 '18 at 12:39

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