Feel free to post information relevant to answering What would happen to the ISS if we stopped maintaining it below:

  • $\begingroup$ Possibly helpful, though pretty high level: slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2011/08/… $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Aug 31 '17 at 12:56
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    $\begingroup$ Keep in mind that ISS flight control sends hundreds, if not thousands, of commands to the ISS each day to configure and maintain systems. Once that stops things are going to go downhill very quickly. The ISS is not autonomous by any stretch of the imagination. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Aug 31 '17 at 14:17
  • $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble Thanks for confirming. I believed this to be the case, though I'm having a hard time finding details on what the day-to-day commands involved. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Aug 31 '17 at 14:23
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    $\begingroup$ It's difficult to find info in the open literature on ISS operations. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Aug 31 '17 at 14:24
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    $\begingroup$ This document info.aiaa.org/tac/SMG/SOSTC/Shared%20Documents/… states that 600,000 commands were sent between Jan 2005 and Mar 2008. If my math is right that's about 500 a day. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Aug 31 '17 at 20:25
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    $\begingroup$ Why is this question on meta? And more specifically: why are some answers here and not on the main site? $\endgroup$ – user10509 Sep 15 '17 at 7:40
  • $\begingroup$ @JanDoggen Think of this as a sandbox toward answering the actual question. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Sep 15 '17 at 9:53

1 week: Mold starts growing unabated - Without the crew's weekly cleaning sessions, mold is allowed to grow on interior surfaces.

Within ~1 year: Some space junk collisions have occurred - Without active ground monitoring, the station is no longer able to perform collision avoidance maneuvers. A collision worth avoiding may not occur for more than a year or two, but is certainly possible within a year.

Within ~2 years: Rust starts to form on some interior surfaces.

Ref: Do things get dirty in space?

  • $\begingroup$ Space junk collisions, anything other than something small, isn't that likely actually. And the ISS wouldn't last a year anyways at it's current orbit. $\endgroup$ – PearsonArtPhoto Sep 1 '17 at 20:01
  • $\begingroup$ @PearsonArtPhoto "Space junk collisions, anything other than something small, isn't that likely actually." I'm including small stuff, but again something larger is possible within a year--though admittedly less likely. "And the ISS wouldn't last a year anyways at it's current orbit." Please see the constraints of the original question. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Sep 1 '17 at 20:03
  • $\begingroup$ nasa.gov/content/station-debris-avoidance-maneuver-conducted There's a maneuver maybe once ever year or two, and the maneuver threshold is something like a 1 in 1000 impact. Small collisions will occur, as they do anyways, but a big collision that could have been avoided is very unlikely. $\endgroup$ – PearsonArtPhoto Sep 1 '17 at 20:05
  • $\begingroup$ @PearsonArtPhoto No disagreement there. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Sep 1 '17 at 20:18

My own concerns:

How long would the solar panels stay rotating before the bearings grind to a halt

Would the air eventually leak

Would the temperature remain stable

  • $\begingroup$ The answer to the second question is an easy "yes". The estimation of how long it would take to drop an arbitrary amount of pressure is a little bit harder as it involves both estimations of when new leaks would occur and how long it would take for the pressure to drop due to those leaks. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Aug 31 '17 at 13:22
  • $\begingroup$ The answer to the third is that coolant issues are not uncommon. It is possible that without regular maintenance that the temperature would destabilize within a couple of years. There may be other confounding factors I am unaware of. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Aug 31 '17 at 13:23
  • $\begingroup$ Is there a constant leak rate, which is known? Or do leaks only occur at irregular intervals when something goes wrong, or when doing spacewalks or other activities $\endgroup$ – Innovine Aug 31 '17 at 13:34
  • $\begingroup$ The atmosphere leaks all the time, but it is not at a constant rate. Micropunctures, for example, can vary the rate. ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20110012997.pdf $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Aug 31 '17 at 13:40
  • $\begingroup$ Even though in the operation of the ISS only one significant leakage event occurred, the rate would vary a lot more if we stopped maintaining the ISS. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Aug 31 '17 at 13:42
  • $\begingroup$ So it's plausible to lose the air before the power? Do we know what damage total loss of pressure would do? Can power generation and consumption continue even if depressurized? $\endgroup$ – Innovine Aug 31 '17 at 14:17
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, air could go before power. Here is some info on what depressurization would do: space.stackexchange.com/q/7769/58 $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Aug 31 '17 at 14:26

As we are told many times, the value of stuff in space is not the stuff, it's the "in space". There would be a huge economic pressure for another country or party to go up there and (at least try to) claim it as abandoned property for salvage. I can't say it would happen, but there would be several parties that would give it some serious thought.

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    $\begingroup$ Interesting angle. I don't know if Innovine intended to include use by another party, but it is interesting to consider nevertheless. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Sep 13 '17 at 16:33
  • $\begingroup$ @called2voyage if you leave a nice car by the side of a road overnight, you don't intend for people to put it up on blocks and take the wheels, but they seem to do it anyway. You leave a house unattended for a while, squatters take over even if that's not what you were thinking about. I know it was a question about systems etc. but "other people" is an attribute of LEO space that won't be non-existent forever. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Sep 13 '17 at 16:38
  • $\begingroup$ @called2voyage so it's great that there is this parallel meta question to give a little space for this less-standard line of thinking. I wouldn't post it there. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Sep 13 '17 at 16:43
  • $\begingroup$ I agree, thanks for bringing it up! $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Sep 13 '17 at 17:16

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