Russia to Withdraw From Space Station After 2024

What’s happening

The head of Russia’s space agency has announced the country’s departure from the ISS after 2024.

Why it matters

The ISS is a symbol of peaceful, global scientific pursuit — one that NASA hopes to keep in place until 2030.

On Tuesday, the head of Russian space agency Roscosmos announced Russia’s intent to withdraw from the International Space Station come 2024. News of the proposed parting arrives amid global tensions rooted in the nation’s invasion of Ukraine — and after nearly 30 years of scientific camaraderie between Russia and the United States.

“We will fulfill all our obligations to our partners, but the decision and withdrawal from this station after 2024 were made,” said Yuri Borisov, who was appointed to his position just this month, speaking during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. By contrast, NASA envisions ISS operations continuing until the year 2030, a goal which was affirmed by the White House last year. 

So if Russia’s decision to exit the orbiting laboratory doesn’t affect the US timeline, about six years of station endeavors could go on without Russian involvement. In a sense, this departure could also mark the dissolution of a time-honored, peaceful bond between the two countries — one born in the name of apolitical science after the Cold War.

At a conference today, Robyn Gatens, NASA’s director of the ISS, said she still hasn’t heard anything official from her Russian counterparts about stepping back from the collaboration, according to Reuters. However, she suggests “the Russians, just like us, are thinking ahead to what’s next for them,” according to CNN. “As we are planning transition after 2030 to commercially operated space stations in low earth orbit, they have a similar plan. And so they’re thinking about that transition as well.”

Though in his meeting with Putin, Borisov offered some direct context. The former Russian deputy prime minister said his main hope is that by 2024, Russia will begin to form its own orbital station. And more generally, Borisov stated that he wants to refocus Roscosmos’ attention on space services vital to the Russian economy. This includes communication, data transmission, and meteorological and geodetic information, he said. Geodetic information is a type of Earth science focused on the geometry of our planet

Though a firm plan of action like Borisov’s hadn’t been proclaimed before, the Russian agency has hinted at an inclination to leave the ISS. Conflict surrounding the Russia-Ukraine war has only exacerbated this desire. 

Among a few rather bizarre threats, like floating the idea of dropping the ISS on the US, former Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin,  threatened to pull his nation out of the ISS program during his recent tenure. Rogozin made pointed declarations like “the decision has been taken already; we’re not obliged to talk about it publicly,” in reference to removing ties to the orbiting science hub, according to Bloomberg. Mirroring Borisov’s recent sentiments, he also said “in accordance with our obligations, we’ll inform our partners about the end of our work on the ISS with a year’s notice.”

“The industry is in a difficult situation, and I see my main task, together with my colleagues, not to drop, but to raise the bar,” Borisov said. “I believe that the future of Russian manned cosmonautics should primarily be based on a balanced and systematic scientific program, so that each flight enriches us with knowledge in the field of space.”

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