Russia to walk away from International Space Station after 2024
In a major upset, Roscosmos Chief Yury Borisov announced in a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin that Russia will formally withdraw from the International Space Station (ISS) after 2024, putting the future of the space lab in jeopardy.
With the Russian invasion of Ukraine dragging into its sixth month, relations between Russia and the West have reached a low not seen since the Cold War. As a result, there has been an increasingly large list of sanctions imposed by both sides and partnerships that were once lauded as examples as post-Cold War cooperation are being severed.
The results of this have already affected CERN, Mars missions with ESA, and now the ISS. According to the Russian news agency TASS, Borisov said that Russia will fulfill all of its obligations, but will not continue its commitment to the ISS after 2024, confirming a position stated by the former Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin in April.
The Ukraine invasion was not cited as influencing the decision, though sanctions were. Instead, costs and the safety of Russian crew members keeping the station in good repair until its planned decommissioning in 2030 were given as the primary reasons. Until its withdrawal from the program, Russia says that it will continue to send crews to the ISS, including three swap-over crews aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon.
How this will affect the future of the ISS after 2024 is a very large question. The Russians have plans to develop their own Russian Orbital Service Station (ROSS), but what will happen to the Russian modules docked with the ISS is still uncertain. They could be left in place and deactivated, control could be transferred to the other ISS partners, or they could even be detached for the new Russian station or disposed of in the Earth's atmosphere.
Another problem is the survival of the ISS itself. Currently, the space lab relies on the Russian Progress cargo ships to provide occasional thruster burns to boost it into a higher altitude to fight orbital decay. Without this, the station will depend on Northrop Grumman's Cygnus cargo ships and similar spacecraft to provide the needed orbital corrections, though this capability is still in the experimental phase.
Such a radical rearrangement will also affect things like crew rotations, keeping the station continually occupied, maintenance, and science projects.