Earlier this week, Russia’s new space chief threatened to leave the ISS after 2024, but new statements made to NASA suggests the country won’t leave the space station until at least 2028.
Amidst ongoing geopolitical tensions between countries that work on the International Space Station, Russia is doing its best to flex its muscles. On Tuesday, newly appointed head of Roscosmos Yury Borisov told president Valdimir Putin that Russia plans to leave the ISS at some vague point “after 2024.” However, NASA officials confirmed to Reuters yesterday that Russia has retreated to an actual, reasonable deadline, and that the country intends to keep its cosmonauts aboard the station until 2028.
“We’re not getting any indication at any working level that anything’s changed,” NASA Associate Administrator for Space Operations Kathy Lueders said in an interview with Reuters.
This clarified timeline comes as a surprise to virtually no one. With its ongoing invasion of Ukraine and the tightening grip of western sanctions, Russia is poorly positioned to commit to the construction of a new orbital lab. Even so, the Russian 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, Vladimir Solovyov, flight director of Russia’s space station segment, said Russian cosmonauts must stay aboard the ISS until ROSS is operational. Solovyov said Russia needs to “continue operating 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-year-long working partnership between NASA and Roscosmos on the project. There is no known formal agreement between NASA and Roscosmos that would keep Russia aboard the ISS past 2024, but a station partner meeting on Friday will likely discuss extending all nations’ presence 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 crash it into the Pacific Ocean just two years later in 2030.
Russia’s track record of bad behavior while collaborating with other spacefaring nations has seen some recent, noteworthy incidents. Notably, former Roscosmos director Dmitry Rogozin threatened to withhold access to Europe’s new robotic arm aboard the ISS in a fiery tirade on Telegram. The threat was issued in response to ESA backing out of a collaborative Mars mission in protest of the country’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Thankfully cooler heads prevailed and the walk proceeded as planned.