Earlier this week, Russia’s new space chief threatened to leave the ISS after 2024, but new statements made to NASA suggest that the country will not leave the space station until at least 2028.
Amid ongoing geopolitical tensions between country which work on the international space station, Russia is doing its best to flex its muscles. Tuesdaythe new head of Roscosmos, Yury Borisov, told President Valdimir Putin that Russia planned to leave the ISS at some point “after 2024.” However, NASA officials have confirmed Reuters yesterday Russia backed down to a real and reasonable time, and that the country intends to keep its cosmonauts on board the station until 2028.
“We’re not getting any indication at any level of work that anything has changed,” Kathy Lueders, NASA associate administrator for space operations, said in an interview with Reuters.
This clarified timeline hardly surprises anyone. With its continued invasion of Ukraine and the tightening grip of Western sanctions, Russia is ill-placed to commit to the construction of a new orbital laboratory. Even so, Russia’s orbital space station, known as ROSS, isn’t expected to be ready until 2028, according to the Reuters report.
In a recent interview with Roscosmos, Russian Space Station Segment Flight Director Vladimir Soloviev said that Russian cosmonauts must remain on the ISS until ROSS is operational. Solovyov said that Russia must “continue to operate the ISS until we create a more or less tangible backlog for ROSS”, and that Russia “must take into account that if we stop [crewed] flights for several years, then it will be very difficult to restore what has been achieved.
Indeed, the sight of Russian cosmonauts leaving the ISS, but with no where else to go in low Earth orbit, would’ve presented supremely bad optics for the Kremlin.
Russia’s apparent commitment to leaving the ISS for its own space station will mark the end of a 24 years old working partnership between NASA and Roscosmos on the project. There is no known formal agreement between NASA and Roscosmos that keep Russia on the ISS past 2024, but a meeting of station partners on Friday is likely to discuss extending the presence of all nations on the ISS until 2030, according to Reuters. It’s worth pointing out, however, that the ISS won’t exist much longer after Russia’s planned exit, as NASA and its station partners plan to plant in the Pacific Ocean just two years later, in 2030.
Russia’s record of misbehavior when working with other space nations has seen recent and notable incidents. Notably, ancient Roscosmos director Dmitry Rogozin threatened to deny access to the new European robotic arm on board the ISS in a fiery tirade on Telegram. The threat was issued in response to the withdrawal of ESA of a collaboration Mars Mission to protest the country’s continued invasion of Ukraine. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and the the walk went as planned.