Russia to quit International Space Station ‘after 2024’

Roscosmos chief says space agency will focus on creating its own orbital outpost as it exits multilateral project.

The International Space Station (ISS)
The ISS has been in orbit for more than two decades and continuously occupied since November 2000 [File: NASA/Roscosmos/Handout via Reuters]

Russia has decided to quit the International Space Station (ISS) after 2024 and focus on creating its own orbital outpost, according to the newly-appointed chief of the country’s space agency.

“Of course, we will fulfil all our obligations to our partners, but the decision to leave this station after 2024 has been made,” Roscosmos Director General Yury Borisov told Russian President Vladimir Putin in comments released by the Kremlin on Tuesday.

Borisov, who was appointed by Putin earlier this month in a shake-up of the Russian space agency, said Russia would “begin to form” the proposed Russian Orbital Station (ROSS) as it exits the multilateral endeavour at a time of high tensions between Moscow and the West over the former’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The main priorities will be made on the creation of the Russian orbital station,” he told Putin.

Borisov’s statements reaffirmed previous declarations by Russian space officials about Moscow’s intention to leave the space outpost – a cooperative programme between Europe, the United States, Russia, Canada, and Japan – in the coming years.

US space agency NASA said later on Tuesday that it was yet to hear from Russia directly on its reported intent to withdraw from the ISS.

“We haven’t received any official word from the partner as to the news today,” Robyn Gatens, director of the ISS for NASA, said during an ISS conference in Washington.

Asked by reporters whether she wanted the US-Russia space relationship to end, Gatens replied: “No, absolutely not.”

NASA, Roscosmos strike landmark deal

Elizabeth Pearson, a space journalist, said there was uncertainty about the longer-term fate of the ISS in light of Russia’s announcement.

“Russia has been signed up to contribute to the ISS until the end of 2024 … the initial hope was that it would continue for another six years because it is in 2030 that NASA is planning on decommissioning the ISS and bringing it back out of orbit,” Pearson told Al Jazeera from Bristol, in southwest England.

“Because Russia has said it is not going to extend [its participation] … there are now a lot of questions about what is going to happen following its withdrawal,” she added.

Borisov’s remarks came after Roscosmos announced earlier this month that it had signed a landmark deal with US space agency NASA regarding integrated flights and crews on the ISS – a rare instance of cooperation between Moscow and Washington in recent years.

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 orbiting outpost running smoothly, according to NASA and Russian officials.

NASA and Roscosmos, the two-decade-old space station’s core partners, had sought for years to renew routine integrated crewed flights as part of the agencies’ long-standing civil alliance.

The first integrated flights under the new agreement will take place in September, according to NASA.

They will see US astronaut Frank Rubio launch to the space station from the Moscow-leased Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan alongside two cosmonauts, Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin.

In exchange, cosmonaut Anna Kikina will join two US astronauts and a Japanese astronaut on a SpaceX Crew Dragon flight to the orbital laboratory, launching from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in the US.

Launched in 1998, the ISS has been continuously occupied since November 2000, providing a hub for astronauts to conduct a range of different research projects some 400km (250 miles) above Earth.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies