Roscosmos chief Yury Borisov told Russian President Vladimir Putin that “the decision to leave this station after 2024 has been made.”
“You know that we work within the framework of international cooperation at the International Space Station. Undoubtedly, we will fulfill all our obligations to our partners, but the decision to leave the station after 2024 has been taken,” Borisov told Putin in the Reading issued by the Kremlin.
But Robyn Gatens, director of the International Space Station for NASA, said NASA had received no official word from Russia regarding the decision to leave the ISS.
“The Russians, like us, are thinking about what lies ahead. As we plan the post-2030 transition to commercially operated space stations in low Earth orbit, they have a similar plan. And so they are also thinking about that transition. We haven’t received any official word from the partner regarding the news today, so we’ll talk more about their plan going forward,” Gatens said.
“NASA is committed to the safe operation of the International Space Station through 2030 and is coordinating with our partners,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement. NASA has not been informed of the decisions of any of the partners, although we continue to develop future capabilities to ensure our major presence in low Earth orbit.”
State Department spokesman Ned Price said news of Russia’s withdrawal from the International Space Station is “an unfortunate development given the critical scientific work being done at the ISS, the valuable professional collaboration that our space agencies have had over the years, and particularly in light of our renewed agreement on spaceflight cooperation.”
This is not the first time that Russia has threatened to abandon the ISS amid crippling US and European sanctions over the war in Ukraine. Borisov’s predecessor, Dmitry Rogozin, repeatedly threatened to do so before being ousted earlier this month.
But this last threat has more bite, and the apparent approval of Putin himself. According to the transcript of a meeting posted on the Kremlin’s website, Putin said “good” after Borisov told him that Roscosmos would start building its own space station after 2024.
The withdrawal of Russia would be a blow for the ISS, a model of international cooperation for decades.
The news comes less than two weeks after NASA and Roscosmos announced a crew swap or “seat swap” deal that had been in negotiation for more than four years. Starting in September, two Russian cosmonauts will launch on American spacecraft from Florida while two American astronauts will pilot Russian rockets into space. It is unclear whether Russia’s decision to withdraw from the ISS after 2024 will impact the crew swap deal.
The ISS, which is a collaboration between the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada and the European Space Agency, is divided into two sections: the Russian orbital segment and the American orbital segment. The Biden administration announced in December that it was committing to expand the ISS from 2024 to 2030. But Russia – NASA’s number one partner on the ISS – never signed on.
“The Russian segment cannot operate without the electricity on the American side, and the American side cannot operate without the propulsion systems that are on the Russian side,” former NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman told CNN in february. “So you can’t do an amicable divorce. You can’t do a conscious uncoupling.”
Since then, NASA has explored ways to move the space station without the help of the Russian segment. In June, a Cygnus cargo ship demonstrated its ability to raise the station’s orbit. But whether the ISS would be able to survive without the Russians remains an open question.
And the United States is developing contingency plans in case Russia follows through on its publicly stated intention to withdraw after 2024.
“It’s the responsible thing to do,” said NSC communications coordinator John Kirby.
He said the United States remained committed to working with all International Space Station partners, but was taking cautious steps to prepare for a possible Russian withdrawal.
Launched in 2000, the ISS has orbited 227 nautical miles above Earth with more than 200 astronauts from 19 different countries enjoying stays on board, representing a continuous human presence in space.
Jennifer Hansler and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.