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This is the only project that still unites the Russian space program and the rest of the world at present, but this cooperation should also end soon. Dmitry Rogozin, director general of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, has officially announced that his country will no longer participate in ISS missions, probably within two years. This decision was taken because of the sanctions imposed on Russia after the invasion of Ukraine.
If the decision has been made, the exact date has not yet been announced. “ I can only say one thing: In accordance with our commitments, we notify our partners one year in advance Rogozin told the independent Russian news agency TASS. It is planned in advance that Russian cosmonauts will continue to work on the space station until 2024. Rogozin said during a meeting with deputies from the State Duma that in the current geopolitical situation, their work was not efficient.
As a reminder, Russia had only committed to the project until 2024, while NASA and its other partners (the European, Canadian and Japanese space agencies) want to maintain the activities of the ISS until 2030 – it is planned to send it in January 2031 to the Pacific, by the point Nemo, where it will join other space debris. Russia’s withdrawal means it will now be up to NASA to maintain the station until the scheduled date; Colossal means would be needed to prolong its operation and prevent it from collapsing, according to Rogozin’s statements reported by TASS.
A termination of operation is constantly delayed
The announcement is ultimately not so surprising. The day after the invasion of Ukraine, Rogozin had warned via his Twitter account that any international sanctions against Russia imposed during the Ukrainian invasion would “destroy” the partnership between NASA and Roscosmos regarding the space station. He also clarified in early April that “normal relations” between ISS partners and Russia could only be restored after “complete and unconditional lifting of illegal sanctions”, reports LiveScience.
Since the inception of the ISS – the first modules of which were launched in 1998 – the maintenance and maintenance in orbit of the station has been primarily the responsibility of Russia, while the United States has at all times been responsible for providing assistance to crew members. Today, the station is aging and malfunctions are common, especially on the side of the oldest modules. Fortunately, these technical problems never put the crew in danger.
Remember that the various elements of the station were originally designed for an operating period of 15 years, so the various partners in the project have been “pulling the rope” for some time. After all, the end of the station’s operation is constantly postponed (2016, 2020, 2024, 2028, then finally January 2031). Note that NASA itself in 2018 considered withdrawing from the project after 2024 – the Trump administration wanted to leave the ISS to the private sector.
For several years, Russia had full control over access to the ISS, and its Soyuz spacecraft was the only one capable of taking astronauts to the station since the end of the US space shuttle operation in 2011. This precedence nevertheless ceased thanks to the development of Other spacecraft from private companies, in particular SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. There is still the problem of keeping the station in orbit, which has always been secured by the thrusters of a Soyuz spacecraft moored there, and of the cargo ship Progress at each refueling.
Towards the development of a new Russian station?
To completely get rid of this Russian dependence, NASA is currently testing its ability to keep the ISS in orbit using the Cygnus spacecraft – an unmanned spacecraft powered by Northrop Grumman Space Systems, which since 2013 has regularly supplied supplies and equipment on board the station. The US agency must now ensure that it will be able to take over everything in the event of the final withdrawal of its historic partner.
Note that in the meantime, the ISS continues to operate normally, while it currently has three Russian engineers among its crew (who have been on board since mid-March). A set of proposals for cooperation after 2024 has been sent to the Russian government and to Vladimir Putin. Could Russia on its decision? In an interview with TASS on April 29, Rogozin said that “a decision on the future of the ISS will largely depend on how the situation develops both in Russia and around her”.
Oddly enough, Russia announced the same day that it would begin testing a new “ultra-short” single-flight flight pattern for the ISS in 2023-2024. ” I think we can try to test this technology on a spaceship until the end of this year and we will probably test it on a manned spacecraft already in 2023-2024 said Rogozin. A program that is not in line with Roscosmos’ desire to put an end to international cooperation …
Be that as it may, the current state of the station, which, according to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov, “leaves much to be desired”, remains a strong argument for definitively withdrawing from the project. Russia is also concentrating on the construction of its own orbital station: the Russian company Energia Space Rocket Corporation has been tasked with preparing the first base module for this new station in 2025. In late February, Rogozin also announced that it would be difficult to implement the ISS project and the project of building a new orbital outpost at the same time due to financial constraints.