The US and Russia’s relationship has had some tense moments over the last couple of decades, including the annexation of Crimea in 2014. However, there has been one area where the two superpowers have continually worked together: the International Space Station (ISS). But it looks as if that cooperation is coming to an end.
Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russia’s Roscosmos space agency, said that the country would abandon the ISS and launch its own space station into orbit by 2030 if Vladimir Putin gives the go-ahead.
Since launching in 1998, Russian cosmonauts have worked alongside astronauts from the US and many other countries onboard the ISS. Roscosmos says its agreement with international partners runs out in 2024, at which point a decision on the ISS’ future will be made on the condition of its technical modules, which have “reached the end of their service life,” and on Russia’s plans for its own orbital service station.
“We can’t risk the lives [of our cosmonauts]. The situation that today is connected to the structure and the metal getting old, it can lead to irreversible consequences – to catastrophe. We mustn’t let that happen,” said Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov, who added that Moscow would give notice to its partners that it would leave the ISS project from 2025.
In a video message on Telegram, Roscosmos said that “the first core module of the new Russian orbital station is in the works.”
Roscosmos said its station would not be permanently crewed, unlike the ISS, as the orbit path expose’s it to higher radiation. It will use AI and robots, though cosmonauts will visit. And while Russia will consider allowing foreign crews on board, “the station must be national […] If you want to do well, do it yourself.”
Russia said back in 2015 that it would depart the ISS and focus on building its own station once 2024 arrived. But the recent announcement comes at a time of heightened tensions between the country and the west: US ambassador John Sullivan is set to return home from Russia after Moscow “recommended” he leaves temporarily; the build-up of troops near Ukraine’s eastern border caused concern; and the world is watching the treatment of Putin critic Alexei Navalny, who has been on hunger strike for weeks.