Russia has announced that it will quit the International Space Station (ISS) after its current commitment expires in 2024 and will focus more on creating its own orbital outpost. Although Russia is yet to inform other partners about its decision, NASA officials, who want to extend operations of the space station through 2030, have expressed confidence that Russia would remain.
With tensions between Washington and Moscow rising after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Yuri Borisov, newly appointed head of Russia’s space agency, made this pronouncement during a meeting with President Vladimir Putin. According to him, “The decision to leave the station after 2024 has been made. I think that by this time we will begin to form the Russian orbital station."
The space station, built as a symbol of post-Cold War cooperation between the world’s two space superpowers, is jointly run by the space agencies of Russia, the U.S., Europe, Japan and Canada. The first piece was put in orbit in 1998, and the outpost has been continuously inhabited for nearly 22 years.
The outpost in orbit consists of two sections, one led by NASA, and the other by Russia. The two are interconnected. Much of the power on the Russian side comes from NASA’s solar panels, while the Russians provide propulsion to periodically raise the orbit.
Over the past 20 years, it has become an important laboratory for scientific research in space, and a test bed for demonstrating commercial opportunities in orbits such as space tourism and advanced manufacturing.
There are chances the ISS will be abandoned after Russia’s decision since the United States during the Trump administration proposed quitting by 2024 due to funding, and was at that time pushing its astronauts to other commercial space stations.
China would likely possess the only space station in orbit. China has offered to fly astronauts from other nations to Tiangong. Astronauts from the European Space Agency have already trained with Chinese astronauts. In general, NASA is prohibited from working directly with China in space.
Russia will be looking to cooperate more with China’s space program, which launched a laboratory module on Sunday to add to its space station, Tiangong. But Tiangong is not in an orbit that can be reached from Russia’s launchpads, and many of the discussions between the two countries have focused on cooperating on lunar exploration.