Russia to quit International Space Station after 2024
Announcement comes amid soaring tensions between Russia and the West over Ukraine invasion
Russia will pull out of the International Space Station after 2024 and focus on building its own orbiting outpost, the country's new space chief said Tuesday amid high tensions between Moscow and the West over the fighting in Ukraine.
Yuri Borisov, who was appointed earlier this month to lead the state-controlled space corporation Roscosmos, said during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin that Russia will fulfil its obligations to other partners of the International Space Station before it leaves the project.
"The decision to leave the station after 2024 has been made," Borisov said. "I think that by that time, we will start forming a Russian orbiting station."
But Robyn Gatens, NASA's director of the space station, said her Russian counterparts have not yet communicated any such intent, which is required by the station's intergovernmental agreement.
"Nothing official yet," Gatens told Reuters, speaking from an ISS conference in Washington. "We literally just saw that as well. We haven't gotten anything official."
Borisov's statement reaffirmed previous declarations by Russian space officials about Moscow's intention to leave the space station after 2024, when the current international arrangements for its operation end.
NASA and other international partners hope to keep the space station running until 2030, while the Russians have been reluctant to make commitments beyond 2024.
The space station is jointly run by the space agencies of Russia, the U.S., Europe, Japan and Canada. The first piece of the station was put in orbit in 1998, and the outpost has been continuously inhabited for nearly 22 years. It is used to conduct scientific research in zero gravity and to test equipment for future space journeys.
The station typically has a crew of seven who live aboard months at a time as it orbits about 400 kilometres from Earth. The complex, which is almost as long as a football field, consists of two main sections, one run by Russia, the other by the U.S. and the other countries.
It was not immediately clear who will operate the Russian side of the station once Moscow pulls out.
Issues around sanctions
The Russian announcement is certain to stir speculation that it is part of Moscow's manoeuvring to win relief from Western sanctions over the conflict in Ukraine.
Borisov's predecessor, Dmitry Rogozin, said last month that Moscow could take part in negotiations about a possible extension of the station's operations only if the U.S. lifts the sanctions it imposed on Russian space industries.
With Elon Musk's SpaceX company now flying NASA astronauts to and from the space station, the Russian Space Agency lost a major source of income. For years, NASA had been paying tens of millions of dollars per seat for rides to and from the station aboard Russian rockets.
Despite the tensions over Ukraine, NASA and Roscosmos struck a deal earlier this month for their astronauts to continue riding Russian rockets. Russian cosmonauts will hitch rides to the space station with SpaceX rockets beginning this fall. These flights will involve no exchange of money.
The agreement ensures that 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 co-operated in space even at the height of the Cold War, when Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft docked in orbit in 1975 in the first crewed international space mission, helping improve U.S.-Soviet relations.
With files from Reuters