MOSCOW (AP) — Russia will retire from the International Space Station after 2024 and focus on building its own outpost in orbit, the country’s new space chief said Tuesday amid high tensions between Moscow and the West about the fighting in Ukraine.
Yuri Borisov, who was named head of state space agency Roscosmos this month, told a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin that Russia would fulfill its obligations to its partners before leaving the project.
“The decision to leave the station after 2024 has been taken,” Borisov said, adding, “I think that at that time we will start forming a Russian orbital station.”
Borisov’s statement reaffirmed previous statements by Russian space officials about Moscow’s intention to exit the space station after 2024, when current international arrangements for its operation end.
NASA and other international partners hope the space station will operate until 2030, while the Russians have been reluctant to make commitments beyond 2024.
The space station is jointly operated by the space agencies of Russia, the United States, Europe, Japan and Canada. The first piece was put into orbit in 1998, and the outpost has been inhabited continuously for nearly 22 years. It is used to conduct scientific research in weightlessness and test equipment for future space travel.
It typically has a crew of seven, who spend months at a time aboard the station as it orbits about 250 miles from Earth. The complex, which is almost as long as a football field, consists of two main sections, one managed by Russia, the other by the United States and other countries.
It was not immediately clear what would need to be done on the Russian side of the complex to continue operating the space station safely once Moscow withdraws.
The Russian announcement is sure to spark speculation that it is part of Moscow’s maneuvering to secure relief from Western sanctions over the conflict in Ukraine.
Borisov’s predecessor, Dmitry Rogozin, said last month that Moscow could only participate in negotiations on a possible expansion of the station’s operations if the United States lifts the sanctions it has imposed on Russian space industries.
With Elon Musk’s SpaceX company now ferrying NASA astronauts to and from the space station, the Russian space agency has lost a major source of revenue. For years, NASA had paid tens of millions of dollars per seat for rides to and from the station aboard Russian rockets.
Despite tensions around Ukraine, NASA and Roscosmos reached an agreement earlier this month for astronauts to continue flying Russian rockets and for Russian cosmonauts to take lifts to the space station with SpaceX from of this fall. But the thefts will not involve any exchange of money.
The deal ensures the space station will always have at least one American and one Russian on board to keep both sides of the outpost running smoothly, according to NASA and Russian officials.
Moscow and Washington cooperated in space even at the height of the Cold War, when the Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft docked in orbit in 1975 as part of the first international crewed space mission, helping to improve US relations. -Soviets.
Marcia Dunn at Cape Canaveral contributed to this report.