Russia Leaving The International Space Station

Russia leaves the International Space Station - possible consequences

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has turned it against the West.


Russia’s announcement this week that it will leave the International Space Station “after 2024” raises critical questions about the outpost’s future viability.

Here’s what you need to know about the Moscow decision and its potential effect on one of the last remaining examples of US-Russia cooperation.

Why does Russia want to leave?

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has turned the country against the West, jeopardized relations with the United States and led to broad sanctions, including against the space industry.

In March, Dmitry Rogozin, then head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, warned that the ISS could plummet to Earth on US or European soil without his country’s cooperation.

But Rogozin’s penchant for bombast, combined with the lack of a definite plan, made things uncertain — and just two weeks ago, Russia and the United States pledged to continue flying each other’s cosmonauts and astronauts to the station.

Scott Pace, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, said the new announcement by Rogozin’s successor Yury Borisov was at least “slightly helpful.”

“The fact that they said, ‘We’re going to commit to 2024’ is good,” Pace, a former senior government official, told AFP.

It means Moscow has no plans to pull out sooner, although it is not yet clear what exactly is meant by “after 2024”.

The year 2024 is what the partners had previously agreed upon, although NASA’s goal is to keep the ISS in orbit until at least 2030 and then move on to smaller commercial stations.

The next step in the process is to inform a body called the Multilateral Control Council, made up of all ISS partners — the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada — at which point the details of the transition will be determined.

If Russia perseveres, it could ground its once-proud space program for some time. The country does not have a commercial space economy and Russian analysts do not see the country building a new station anytime soon.

Can the station fly without Russia?

Probably – but it would be a challenge.

The ISS was launched in 1998 at a time of hopes for cooperation between the US and Russia after their Space Race competition during the Cold War.

Since the Space Shuttle has been retired, the ISS has relied on Russian propulsion systems for periodic boosts to maintain its orbit some 400 kilometers above sea level. The US segment is responsible for electricity and life support systems.

The United States has recently made progress in getting an independent propulsion system through Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft, which successfully re-boost test in late June.

But height is only part of the equation: the other is “attitude” or orientation.

Cygnus “can push, but it can’t keep the station in the right direction as it pushes,” explained astronomer and space telescope Jonathan McDowell.

The ISS itself may make minor adjustments in attitude, but if the Russians pull out, the United States will need a more permanent solution — perhaps with the SpaceX Dragon, Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus or Orion, Pace said.

Russia has two propulsion systems: progress spaceships docking at the station and the Zvezda service module. All control systems are handled from Moscow.

It would be helpful if Russia left their segment in place rather than taking it with them when they go — one of the station’s two bathrooms is on the Russian side — Pace noted, but that’s still an unknown.

“If it’s still there, and we wanted to use it, would there be some sort of lease? I don’t know.”

What do experts predict?

NASA itself has taken a bullish stance.

“We’re running and shooting, we’re going full steam ahead,” Joel Montalbano, NASA ISS program manager, said Tuesday morning of the Russian announcement.

“Everyone thinks there’s another plan, you’re wrong.”

But while Russia’s withdrawal could provide another opportunity for the private sector, McDowell isn’t so sure.

For him, “how hard they really want to work to get a few more years out of ISS” is an open question.

“It may not be the right move for the US to go to great lengths to save (the) station,” he said, especially as NASA has bigger goals to build a lunar space station called Gateway, a presence on the moon. settle and go to Mars.

“Maybe they should take the Russian withdrawal as an excuse and say, ‘Okay, bye.’ And now let’s put our money into Gateway.”

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)

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