Some parts of the ISS will be more fragmentation-proof than others. Engine bells and pressure vessels, for instance.

Has NASA done a formal assessment of component survivability to determine what big chunks will survive re-entry?

Are there plans to modify the ISS prior to de-orbit to reduce fragment size or number.? For instance a "rapid planed disassembly" post de-orbit burn ?


1 Answer 1


Partial answer to

  • Are there plans to modify the ISS prior to de-orbit to reduce fragment size or number.?

No. Deorbit plans focus on configuring the ISS for maximum trajectory and debris footprint predictability, not debris fragment size minimization. The type of debris enters into the footprint prediction as a range of mass-to-area ratios. Since the impact will be in a remote ocean area, the fragment size is of little concern.

Nominal planning aims for full deorbit of all ISS debris into a 6,000 km or less footprint within the SPOUA.

(SPOUA = South Pacific Ocean Uninhabited Area)

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. What's your undocumented guess? I'm not aware of anything larger and more dense than the high pressure O2 tanks. $\endgroup$
    – Woody
    Commented Jan 24, 2022 at 0:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Woody based solely on what I know about the Columbia debris (most massive items that survived being landing gears, main engine powerheads, etc) maybe trunnion pins or other forgings? Tanks from Skylab seemed to survive well but maybe were low density. Not my wheelhouse really. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 24, 2022 at 0:26
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    $\begingroup$ Yah, that ISS landing gear is a worry. (insert wink-wink emoji to prevent comment being interpreted as sarcasm.) $\endgroup$
    – Woody
    Commented Jan 24, 2022 at 0:30
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    $\begingroup$ If I had to guess, I'd say some of the biggest fragments to survive relatively undisturbed would likely be the CMG rotors -- basically big solid chunks of stainless steel a couple hundred pounds in weight. $\endgroup$
    – Tristan
    Commented Jan 24, 2022 at 15:06

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