Russia will withdraw from the International Space Station project “after 2024” after fulfilling its obligations, according to the Kremlin’s minutes of a meeting between new Roscosmos chief Yuri Borisov and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“You know that we work within the framework of international cooperation at the International Space Station. Undoubtedly, we will fulfill all our obligations to our partners, but the decision to leave the station after 2024 has been taken,” Borisov told Putin in the reading released by the Kremlin.
“I think at that time we will start training the Russian orbital station,” Borisov said.
The withdrawal of Russia would be a blow for the ISS, a model of international cooperation for decades. The announcement comes as the war in Ukraine has deeply strained its relations with the United States and Europe.
Robyn Gatens, director of the International Space Station for NASA, said NASA had received no official word from Russia regarding the decision to leave the ISS.
“The Russians, just like us, are thinking about what lies ahead. As we plan the transition after 2030 to commercially operated space stations in low Earth orbit, they have a similar plan. And so they are thinking about this transition. We don’t We’ve received no official word from the partner regarding the news today, so we’ll talk more about their plan going forward,” Gatens said.
This is not the first time that Russia has threatened to abandon the ISS amid crippling US and European sanctions over the war in Ukraine. Borisov’s predecessor, Dmitry Rogozin, repeatedly threatened to do so before being ousted earlier this month.
But this last threat has more bite, and the apparent approval of Putin himself. According to the transcript of a meeting posted on the Kremlin’s website, Putin said “good” after Borisov told him that Roscosmos would start building its own space station after 2024.
The withdrawal of Russia would be a blow for the ISS, a model of international cooperation for decades.
The news comes less than two weeks after NASA and Roscosmos announced a crew swap or “seat swap” deal that had been in negotiation for more than four years. Starting in September, two Russian cosmonauts will launch on American spacecraft from Florida while two American astronauts will pilot Russian rockets into space. It is unclear whether Russia’s decision to withdraw from the ISS after 2024 will impact the crew swap deal.
The ISS, which is a collaboration between the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada and the European Space Agency, is divided into two sections: the Russian orbital segment and the American orbital segment. The Biden administration announced in December that it was committing to expand the ISS from 2024 to 2030. But Russia – NASA’s number one partner on the ISS – never signed on.
“The Russian segment cannot operate without the electricity on the American side, and the American side cannot operate without the propulsion systems that are on the Russian side,” former NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman told CNN in february. “So you can’t do an amicable divorce. You can’t do a conscious uncoupling.”
Since then, NASA has explored ways to move the space station without the help of the Russian segment. In June, a Cygnus cargo ship demonstrated its ability to raise the station’s orbit. But whether the ISS would be able to survive without the Russians remains an open question.
NASA said in February that it intended to continue operating the International Space Station – which was launched in 2000 – until the end of 2030, after which the ISS would de-orbit and crash into a remote part of the Pacific Ocean. Commercially operated space platforms would replace the ISS as a place for collaboration and scientific research, NASA said.
Listen to the Director General of the European Space Agency here: