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It is the only project that still unites the Russian space program and the rest of the world at the moment, but this cooperation should also end soon. Dmitry Rogozin, director general of Russia’s Roscosmos space agency, has officially announced that his country will no longer participate in ISS missions, most likely within two years. This decision was made due to the sanctions imposed on Russia after the invasion of Ukraine.
If a decision is made, the exact date has not yet been announced. “ I can only say one thing: according to our obligations, we will inform our partners one year in advance Rogozin told the independent Russian news agency TASS. It is predicted in advance that Russian cosmonauts will continue to work on the space station until 2024. Rogozin said during a meeting with members of the State Duma that in the current geopolitical situation their work was not effective.
Recall that Russia was committed to the project only until 2024, while NASA and its other partners (European, Canadian and Japanese space agencies) want to maintain ISS operations until 2030 – it is scheduled to send it in January 2031 in the Pacific, at Nemo, where it will join other space debris. Russia’s withdrawal means that it will now be up to NASA to maintain the station until the scheduled date. Colossal funds will be needed to extend its operation and prevent it from collapsing, according to Rogozin, quoted by TASS.
The end of the operation is constantly postponed
The announcement in the end is not 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 cooperation between NASA and Roscosmos on the space station. He also clarified in early April that “normal relations” between the ISS partners and Russia could be restored only after the “complete and unconditional lifting of illegal sanctions”, he said. LiveScience.
From the beginning of the ISS – the first units of which were launched in 1998 – the maintenance and in-service maintenance of the station was primarily the responsibility of Russia, while the United States was responsible for providing assistance to crew members at all times. Today, the station is aging and malfunctions are common, especially on the side of older units. Fortunately, these technical problems never put the crew in danger.
Remember that the various elements of the station were originally designed for a period of operation of 15 years, so the various collaborators of the project have been “pulling the rope” for quite some time. Nevertheless, the end of the operation of the station is constantly postponed (2016, 2020, 2024, 2028 and finally, January 2031). Note that in 2018, NASA itself considered withdrawing from the project after 2024 – the Trump administration wanted to trust the ISS in the private sector.
For several years, Russia had full control of access to the ISS, with the Soyuz spacecraft being the only one that could carry astronauts to the station since the end of the US space shuttle operations in 2011. However, that supremacy ended thanks to in the development of other spacecraft by private companies, in particular SpaceX Crew Dragon. The problem remains of keeping the station in orbit, which has always been ensured by the propellers of a Soyuz spacecraft anchored there and by the Progress cargo ship at every refueling.
Towards the development of a new Russian station?
To get rid of this Russian dependency completely, NASA is currently testing its ability to keep the ISS in orbit using the Cygnus spacecraft – an unmanned spacecraft operated by Northrop Grumman Space Systems, which since 2013 has regularly provided supplies and equipment at the station. The US agency must now ensure that it will be able to take on everything in the event of the departure of its partner’s history.
It should be noted that in the meantime, the ISS continues to operate normally, and currently has three Russian engineers on 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 decide? In an interview with TASS on April 29, Rogozin said that “the decision on the future of the ISS will largely depend on how the situation develops in and around Russia.”
Surprisingly, Russia announced the same day that it would begin testing a new “super-short” flight plan on the ISS single-track in 2023-2024. ” I think we can try this technology on a space truck by the end of this year and we will probably test it on a manned spacecraft as early as 2023-2024 said Rogozin. A program that is not in line with Roscosmos’s desire to end international cooperation …
In any case, the current state of the station, which according to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov “leaves much to be desired”, remains a strong argument for the final withdrawal from the project. Russia is also focusing on building its own orbital station: Russian company Energia Space Rocket Corporation has been tasked with preparing the first base unit for the new station by 2025. In late February, Rogozin also said it would be difficult to build implementation of the ISS project and the project to build a new orbital outpost at the same time due to financial constraints.