Russia will pull out of the International Space Station after 2024 and focus on building its own orbiting outpost, the country’s new space chief said Tuesday amid high tensions between Moscow and the West over the fighting in Ukraine. .
Yuri Borisov, who was appointed this month to head the state space agency Roscosmos, said during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin that Russia will fulfill its obligations to its partners before leaving the project.
“The decision to leave the station after 2024 has been made,” Borisov said, adding, “I think we will start forming a Russian track station by then.”
Borisov’s statement confirmed previous statements by Russian space officials about Moscow’s intention to leave the space station after 2024, when current international arrangements for the operation end.
NASA and other international partners hope to run the space station until 2030, while the Russians are reluctant to make any commitments after 2024.
The space station is jointly operated by the space agencies of Russia, the US, Europe, Japan and Canada. The first stretch was put into orbit in 1998, and the outpost has been continuously inhabited for nearly 22 years. It is used to conduct scientific research without gravity and to test equipment for future space travel.
It usually has a crew of seven, who spend months at a time aboard the station as it orbits about 250 miles from Earth. The complex, which is almost as long as a football field, consists of two main sections, one run by Russia, the other by the US and the other countries.
It was not immediately clear what would need to be done on the Russian side of the complex to continue operating the space station safely if Moscow withdraws.
The Russian announcement will no doubt spark speculation that it is part of Moscow’s maneuvers to get relief from Western sanctions over the conflict in Ukraine.
Borisov’s predecessor, Dmitry Rogozin, said last month that Moscow will only be allowed to participate in negotiations over a possible expansion of the station’s operations if the US lifts sanctions it has imposed on Russia’s aerospace industry.
With Elon Musk’s SpaceX company now flying NASA astronauts to and from the space station, the Russian space agency has lost a significant source of revenue. For years, NASA had paid tens of millions of dollars per seat for rides to and from the station aboard Russian rockets.
Despite tensions over Ukraine, NASA and Roscosmos struck a deal earlier this month for astronauts to continue riding on Russian rockets and for Russian cosmonauts to take elevators to the space station with SpaceX starting this fall. But the flights will not involve an exchange of money.
The agreement ensures that the space station will always have at least one American and one Russian on board to keep both sides of the outpost running smoothly, NASA and Russian officials said.
Moscow and Washington collaborated in space even at the height of the Cold War, when the Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft docked in orbit during the first manned international space mission in 1975, deepening US-Soviet relations. Union were improved.