Russia has declared that it will leave the International Space Station after 2024.
They plan on focusing on building their own orbiting outpost.
Russian Space Officials made the statement amid high tensions between Moscow and the West over the war in Ukraine.
The announcement wasn’t completely unexpected, but it threw into question the future of the 24-year-old space station.
It would be challenging to maintain it without the Russians, according to experts.
The ISS was expected to remain in use until 2030, according to NASA and its allies.
The Russian space agency’s new chief, Yuri Borisov, said in a meeting with President Vladimir Putin that “the decision to leave the station after 2024 has been made…I think that by that time we will start forming a Russian orbiting station.” Borisov was chosen last month to lead Roscosmos.
The International Space Station (ISS) has served as a metaphor for post-Cold War international effort and cooperation in space for scientific purposes.
Now, though, it is one of the last areas of cooperation between the U.S. and the Kremlin.
NASA officials have yet to hear directly from their Russian counterparts on the matter.
According to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, the organization is “committed to the safe operation” of the space station through the year 2030 and is also “building future capabilities to assure our major presence in low-Earth orbit.”
The statement was deemed unfortunate by U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price because of the “valuable professional collaboration our space agencies have had over the years.”
John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, stated that the United States is searching for solutions to deal with the Russian pullout.
Russia has talked about its desire to launch its own space station for a while now.
They’ve also complained that the wear and tear on the aging International Space Station could compromise safety and make it difficult to extend its lifespan.
Others are speculating that cost could also be a factor.
Since Elon Musk’s SpaceX company is now flying NASA astronauts to and from the space station, the Russian Space Agency has lost a significant source of income.
Up until recently, NASA had to pay tens of millions of dollars per seat for rides aboard Russian Soyuz rockets.
The Russian announcement has also sparked speculation that it is an effort by Moscow to obtain a lifting of Western sanctions related to the crisis in Ukraine.
Last month, Dmitry Rogozin said that Moscow could participate in negotiations about extending the ISS’s operations only after the United States lifted its sanctions against the Russian space industry.
“Remember that Russia’s best game is chess” former Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield tweeted in response to Tuesday’s announcement.
Canada, Japan, Europe, the United States, and Russia jointly manage the space station.
In 1998, the ISS’s first piece was launched into orbit. It has been inhabited continuously for almost 22 years.
The ISS is used to conduct scientific research in zero gravity and test technology for future journeys to the moon and Mars.
The two main components of the over $100 billion complex are about the length of a football field.
One section is operated by Russia and the other by the U.S. and the other countries.
It’s still not clear what will have to be done to the Russian side of the complex to ensure safe operations of the space station when Moscow pulls out.
The Russian declaration “could be just more bluster,” according to Scott Kelly, who spent 340 consective days in 2015 and 2016 aboard the International Space Station. He also noted that the phrase “after 2024” is ambiguous and open-ended. Kelly stated “I believe Russia will stay as long as they can afford to, as without ISS they have no human spaceflight program”
“Cooperation with the West also shows some amount of legitimacy to other, nonaligned nations and to their own people, which Putin needs, as the war in Ukraine has damaged his credibility.”
Kelly also mentioned that the station’s design would make it difficult but not impossible for the remaining nations to operate it if Russia withdrew.
University of Chicago Historian of Science, Jordan Bimm, said the Russian statement “does not bode well for the future of the ISS.”
“It creates a constellation of uncertainties about maintaining the station which don’t have easy answers,” he added.
“What will `leaving’ look like?” he asked.
“Will the last cosmonauts simply undock a Soyuz and return to Earth, leaving the Russian-built modules attached? Will they render them inoperable before leaving? Will NASA and its international partners have to negotiate to buy them out and continue using them? Can these modules even be maintained without Russian know-how?”
The most pressing issue would be how to boost the complex on a regular basis to maintain its orbit if the Russian components of the space station were to become disconnected or malfunctioning.
Russian spacecraft that deliver supplies and crew to the station assists in adjusting the station’s orbit and raising its altitude.
The director of George Washington University’s space policy institute, Scott Pace, said it “remains to be seen whether the Russians will, in fact, be able to launch and maintain their own independent station.”
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