why Russia’s departure from the ISS “after 2024” is anything but anecdotal

Announcing its withdrawal from any project within the International Space Station after the year 2024, Moscow intends to focus on its future Ross station.

Washington sees this as a “regrettable” decision. Russia’s choice to leave the International Space Station “after 2024” marks a turning point in international space cooperation.

“The decision to leave this station after 2024 has been made,” the director of the Russian space agency Roscomos Yuri Borrissov said during a filmed interview with President Vladimir Putin, assuring that Russia will continue to honor its obligations as a partner until then.

An expected and regretted announcement

Did the other partner countries expect it? On the American side, it is claimed that the withdrawal of the Russians from the ISS is a real “surprise”.

“But the Russians have been talking about 2024 for years,” Olivier Sanguy, science broker at the Cité de l’Espace in Toulouse, told BFMTV.com.

The European Space Agency emphasizes that this decision by Moscow “is not new and has been mentioned before”.

Olivier Sanguy explains that it was NASA that tried to postpone the deadline for this Russian departure, as the American agency was not yet ready to maintain the station in its orbit itself. The International Space Station is generally based on two segments: the first, Russian, is responsible with the Zaria module for keeping the ISS in orbit, while the American-European-Japanese-Canadian segment is responsible for electrical energy and the good performance of scientific experiments on board the spacecraft.

“They are all trained to work together and they are in such circumstances that they can only work together”, explains for France info Isabelle Sourbès-Verger, research director at CNRS specializing in issues of cooperation in space exploration.

The place of the war in Ukraine in this decision

An interdependence that the other partner countries expected until 2030, the year in which the station will be retired. Do the statements from the Russian space agency therefore sound like a new breach between Moscow and Western countries?

“It is above all an appeasement”, analyzes Olivier Sanguy for BFMTV.com, “with the war in Ukraine, the former director of Rocosmos was very vengeful: he attacked Presidents Biden and Macron and almost suggested that Russia could leave the ISS overnight.

Didier Schmitt is of the same opinion. The head of strategy for human and robotic exploration at the European Space Agency even sees a “quite diplomatic” approach on the part of Roscosmos. “In a way, they are inviting NASA to prepare to maintain the station alone from 2025 if they leave”, he elaborates for Le Figaro. If the conflict that has antagonized Moscow for months “may have confirmed Russia in its desire to leave the ISS before the 2030 deadline”, Olivier Sanguy explains that this is actually the result of “multifactorial decisions”.

The arrival of the SpaceX capsule, the company of billionaire Elon Musk, on board the ISS could also play in this decision. “We no longer need their ship to join the International Space Station”, remembers Isabelle Sourbès-Verger for the information of France. Russia has effectively lost the monopoly on transporting astronauts with its Soyuz rockets and craft, as the Americans and Europeans could once again depart from American soil with the Crew Dragon capsules.

“There is a component of cooperation in space programs, but also a strong component of sovereignty”, recalls Olivier Sanguy for BFMTV.com, “through space a state shows what it is capable of doing, it is a bit of a showcase for expertise.”

The specter of a new conquest of space

The Russians’ choice of calendar is not accidental: 2024 is the year in which Roscosmos has set itself to launch the first module of its own orbital station called ROSS (Russian Orbital Service Station). From this date, this will be the “main priority” of the Russian space program, Yuri Borissov said on Tuesday. asked by Le FigaroDidier Schmitt did not see Russia stopping the ISS “until they had another solution to send their astronauts”.

Moscow follows Beijing here, which has already launched its first modules for its own Chinese space station. And the two great powers will also join forces on a project of a different magnitude with a main target in mind: the Moon. Facing them are the other ISS partner countries that have joined the Artemis program with the lunar-orbiting Gateway station, the first two modules of which are due to launch in 2024.

Is a new space race launched? “It is a real debate within the space community […] The reality is that we at least have an imitation to have an important geopolitical position”, judge Olivier Sanguy for BFMTV.com.

Hugues Garnier BFMTV journalist

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