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Russia to leave International Space Station after 2024

July 26, 2022

The chief of Russia's space program has said the decision to leave the station has been made, but "all obligations to partners" will be met.

International Space Station over planet Earth
NASA says the Roscomos decision to leave the program has not been communicatedImage: Stanislav Rishnyak/NASA/Zoonar/picture alliance

Russia to pull out of ISS after 2024

Russia has decided to leave the International Space Station (ISS) "after 2024," the newly appointed chief of Moscow's space agency said Tuesday. 

"Of course, we will fulfill all our obligations to our partners, but the decision to leave this station after 2024 has been made," Yury Borisov, who was appointed Roscosmos chief in mid-July said.

"I think that by this time we will start putting together a Russian orbital station," Borisov added, saying that it was the space program's "priority."

White House exploring options if Russia leaves space station

US State Department spokesman Ned Price called Russia's announcement "an unfortunate development" and cited the "valuable professional collaboration our space agencies have had over the years."  

US National Security Council (NSC) spokesperson John Kirby said Washington is "exploring options" for dealing with Russia's possible withdrawal from the Space Station.

Experts like Jordan Bimm of the University of Chicago say the Russian departure signals uncertainty above all else. Bimm says operating the ISS, "could be a nightmare depending on how hard Russia wanted to make it for NASA and its remaining partners."

If the Russian components of the station were detached or become inoperable, says Bimm, the most immediate problem would be how to periodically boost the complex to maintain its orbit — a task mainly carried out by Russian spacecraft arriving at the ISS.

NASA in the dark about decision to leave

Robyn Gatens, director of the space station for NASA, told Reuters news agency that her Russian counterparts have not communicated intent to withdraw from the program.

"Nothing official yet," Gatens said at an ISS conference in Washington. "We literally just saw that as well. We haven't gotten anything official."

Asked whether she wanted the partnership to end, Gatens responded: "No, absolutely not."

"They have been good partners, as all of our partners are, and we want to continue together as the partnership to continue operating space station through the decade," Gatens said.

The partnership has been one of the last remaining links of cooperation between Washington and Moscow, as relations sink to the lowest point since the Cold War.

"It's an unfortunate development given the critical scientific work performed at the ISS, the valuable professional collaboration our space agencieshave had over the years, and especially in light of our renewed agreement on space-flight cooperation," US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters Tuesday.

The effects of war in Ukraine on the ISS

Ukraine invasion leaves relations in tatters

The announcement comes as tensions rage between the Kremlin and the West over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine and several rounds of sanctions against Russia.

The decision also confirms previous statements made by Russian space officials about the future role in the program beyond 2024.

Earlier this month Russian President Vladimir Putin sacked Russia's space chief, Dmitry Rogozin, by presidential decree, with no reason given.

A deal was also struck earlier this month for astronauts to continue riding Russian rockets and for Russian cosmonauts to catch lifts to the International Space Station with SpaceX beginning this fall.

The deal came despite NASA's condemnation of the actions of three Russian cosmonauts aboard the ISS.

Roscosmos posted pictures of cosmonauts holding flags of the Luhansk People's Republic and the Donetsk People's Republic — two Russian-backed separatist regions in eastern Ukraine.

In April the European Space Agency (ESA) said it would no longer collaborate with Russia on a series of lunar missions, citing Russian aggression against Ukraine and sanctions placed on Russia in its reasoning.

js,kb/wmr (AP, AFP)