International Space Station to retire in 2031, crashing into the Pacific Ocean

NASA says it plans to extend operations of the International Space Station until 2030 after which it plans to retire the station and crash it into a remote region of the Pacific Ocean commonly known as Point Nemo. 

"The International Space Station is a unique laboratory that is returning enormous scientific, educational, and technological developments to benefit people on Earth and is enabling our ability to travel into deep space. The Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to extend space station operations until 2030 will enable the United States to continue to reap these benefits for the next decade while U.S. industry develops commercial destinations and markets for a thriving space economy," NASA wrote in a statement on Jan. 31.

The space station, which has served as a hub for research and technological development since it was launched in 2000, has housed more than 200 astronauts from 19 different countries.

What will replace the International Space Station?

NASA says the empty space will be taken over by the private sector. Commercially operated space platforms are expected to replace the ISS.

"The private sector is technically and financially capable of developing and operating commercial low-Earth orbit destinations, with NASA's assistance. We look forward to sharing our lessons learned and operations experience with the private sector to help them develop safe, reliable, and cost-effective destinations in space," said Phil McAlister, director of commercial space at NASA Headquarters in a statement.

"The report we have delivered to Congress describes, in detail, our comprehensive plan for ensuring a smooth transition to commercial destinations after retirement of the International Space Station in 2030," NASA continued.

That document, the International Space Station Transition Report, was published by NASA last month, and outlines plans for the ISS deorbit and eventual crash towards Earth, which would occur in January 2031.

Point Nemo, the region where the ISS will see its final destination, is named after the iconic Jules Verne novel "Twenty Thousand Leagues under the sea" after the main character, Captain Nemo.

This remote oceanic location is the furthest point from land in the world, according to the National Ocean Service.

Until then, the ISS still has plenty of work to do.

"The International Space Station is entering its third and most productive decade as a groundbreaking scientific platform in microgravity," said Robyn Gatens, director of the International Space Station at NASA Headquarters, said in the statement.

"This third decade is one of results, building on our successful global partnership to verify exploration and human research technologies to support deep space exploration, continue to return medical and environmental benefits to humanity, and lay the groundwork for a commercial future in low-Earth orbit."

Chinese space station to expand

Elsewhere, China has recommitted itself to completing its orbiting space station by the end of the year and says it is planning more than 40 launches for 2022, putting it roughly level with the United States.

Launches would include those of two Shenzhou crewed missions, two Tianzhou cargo spacecraft and the station’s additional two modules, the official Xinhua News Agency reported Thursday, citing a recent announcement by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation known as CASC.

Named Mengtian and Wentian, the science modules will join the Tianhe core module that is currently home to a three-person crew.

The launch schedule shows how China’s traditionally cautious program is increasing the cadence of its missions as it seeks to take a leading role in space exploration.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.