Russia said on Tuesday that it will depart from the International Space Station (ISS) project after 2024, signaling the end of an era in one of Russia and the United States’ last significant areas of collaboration.
In a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, Russia’s newly appointed director of space agency Roscosmos revealed the decision, adding that the agency will instead focus on building its own orbiting station.
“We will fulfill all our obligations to our partners, but the decision to leave this station after 2024 has been made,” the space agency chief Yuri Borisov said.
Russian officials have discussed abandoning the project since 2021, citing outdated equipment and increasing safety threats. However, the countries engaged in the ISS agreed to use it through 2024, while NASA intends to use it until 2030.
However, the continued conflict between Moscow and Washington over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a bombardment of economic sanctions appear to have expedited the withdrawal.
Dmitry Rogozin, the former Roscosmos head, stated last month that discussions about Russian involvement after 2024 are only possible if US sanctions against the Russian space industry and other areas of the economy are lifted.
President Biden issued further sanctions against Russia shortly after Russian soldiers entered Ukraine in February, aiming to ” degrade” the country’s space program.
“We estimate that we’ll cut off more than half of Russia’s high-tech imports. That will strike a blow to their ability to continue to modernize their military. It’ll degrade their aerospace industry, including their space program,” Biden said at the time.
In response to the sanctions, Rogozin threatened to let the station crash onto the Earth.
“There [is a] possibility of a 500-ton structure falling on India and China. Do you want to threaten them with such a prospect? The ISS does not fly over Russia; therefore, all the risks are yours. Are you ready for them?” Rogozin said then.
Meanwhile, NASA has taken tremendous measures to keep the collaboration alive and has worked to keep the war from impacting the ISS alliance, saying earlier this year that the collaborative work will continue.
“Russian cosmonauts and American astronauts are all very professional,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said on June 15 during a joint news conference with his European Space Agency counterpart.
“Despite the tragedies that are occurring in Ukraine by President Putin, the fact is that the international partnership is solid when it comes to the civilian space program.”
The two components of the ISS operated by NASA and Roscosmos are interdependent, and it is unknown if the ISS can be maintained if one of the two sides quits the project.