Russia said on Tuesday it will be withdraw from the International Space Station after 2024, signaling the end of a common project which served as key symbol of post cold war cooperation with Washington.
The move comes as Moscow and the West clash over the Kremlin war in Ukraine, and casts new doubt on the future of global collaboration in space. Russia has hinted that it sees its future primarily a cooperative effort with the Chinese space program rather than NASA, its main partner for the past 25 years.
The head of Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, told President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday that the country would leave the ISS and focus on building its own space station, according to state media.
“The decision to withdraw from this station after 2024 has been taken,” said the new head of Roscosmos, Yuri Borisov, according to the Tass news agency.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said Tuesday afternoon that the agency plans to continue operating the outpost in orbit until the end of the decade.
“NASA is committed to the safe operation of the International Space Station through 2030 and is coordinating with our partners,” Nelson said in a statement. “NASA has not been advised of any of the partners’ decisions, although we continue to develop future capabilities to support our major presence in low Earth orbit.”
It’s not yet clear what impact Russia’s announcement will have on the management of the space station for years to come, said Cathleen Lewis, curator in the space history department at the National Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian Institution.
“Does that mean they won’t send any more cosmonauts or astronauts from other nations to the space station, or will they really detach and deorbit their components?” she says. “We really don’t know what that means.”
How Russia handles the withdrawal will have logistical consequences for NASA and its other partners, including whether different space agencies or commercial vendors step in to fill the gaps.
“It’s like renting a group home with a group of friends and the last person to come out is responsible for all the cleaning,” Lewis said. “The devil is in the details.”
Construction of the outpost in low Earth orbit began in 1998 and was completed in 2011. It has been hailed as an example of reconciliation between the United States and Russia, two longtime adversaries, but this relationship has now felt the impact of a new earthly confrontation. .
The current agreement between Russia and the United States on the aging space station expires in 2024. Russian officials have previously hinted that they will let the agreement expire to work on their own Russian orbital station, which they hope will be operational in 2025.
On Tuesday, Borisov, who was named director of the Russian space agency this month, confirmed to Putin that he intended to do just that. Borisov said Russia would fulfill its obligations to its partners before leaving, according to Tass.
He said Roscosmos’ main goal should be to “raise the bar” and provide the country with “necessary space services”, such as global navigation, communication and weather data. The space industry “is in a tough spot,” Tass quoted him as saying.
Russia’s announcement comes as the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine threatens to affect everything from European energy supplies to global food stocks.
Despite the rift, NASA and Roscosmos reached an agreement this month for astronauts to continue flying Russian rockets and for Russian cosmonauts to take lifts to the space station with SpaceX starting this fall, the report reported. ‘Associated Press.
The deal ensures the space station will always have at least one American and one Russian on board to keep both sides of the orbiting outpost running smoothly, AP said.
Still, Lewis said Russia has long threatened to dissolve its partnership in the International Space Station and instead build a new outpost in low Earth orbit. But, she added, the national space agency has operated on a shoestring budget in recent years.
“Human spaceflight is very expensive,” Lewis said. “Where are they going to get the money? Even before the invasion of Ukraine and the financial consequences of the embargoes against Russia, Roscosmos had very limited resources.”
NASA and Roscosmos were the two main partners responsible for building and operating the ISS, with the European Space Agency, Canadian Space Agency and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency also involved.
However, tensions between Russia and the West, reinforced by the invasion of Ukrainealso soured spatial relations.
Three Russian cosmonauts flew to the ISS in March. And Roscosmos released photos this month that appear to show these cosmonauts holding the flag of Luhansk, one of the self-proclaimed republics which Russia helped break away from Ukraine in 2014 and had just claimed to have fully captured in the current conflict.
Former Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin has regularly denounced Western sanctions against Russia, saying they could cause the ISS to crash in the United States.
He also celebrated the hiding of other countries’ flags on Russian-built rockets, prompting a strong response from retired NASA astronaut Scott Kelly.
“Without these flags and the currency they earn, your space program will be worthless,” Kelly tweeted at Rogozin in March.
While these recent events have made relations between the United States and Russia difficult, Lewis said she believes global cooperation on human spaceflight is “inevitable” and will eventually endure.
“Human spaceflight is extremely expensive and requires a multitude of viewpoints and a diversity of approaches,” she said. “You’re going to get a more complex, richer, and more robust agenda than a single country with a single point of view with a single motivation driven largely by national prestige.”