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Russian participation in the International Space Station will end

Russia’s new space chief announced on Tuesday that the country will leave the International Space Station in 2024 and concentrate on developing its own orbiting outpost in the midst of heightened tensions between Moscow and the West over the conflict in Ukraine.

The statement, while not unexpected, raises doubts on the future of the space station, which has been operating for 24 years. According to experts, maintaining the station without the Russians would be a “nightmare,” to put it mildly. Up until 2030, NASA and its collaborators had wanted to keep it in operation.

The decision to leave the station after 2024 has been made, Yuri Borisov, appointed this month to lead the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, said during a meeting with President Vladimir Putin. I think that by that time we will start forming a Russian orbiting station.

One of the final areas of cooperation between the United States and the Kremlin is the space station, which has long been a symbol of post-Cold War international teamwork in the name of research.

NASA had no immediate comment.

The goal of Moscow to leave the space station after 2024, when the current international agreements for its operation expire, was reiterated in Borisov’s remarks.

Russian officials have long expressed a desire to launch their own space station and have griped that the aging International Space Station’s wear and tear is threatening safety and may make it challenging to extend its lifespan.

Cost may also be a factor to consider: the Russian Space Agency lost a significant revenue stream when NASA astronauts began flying with Elon Musk’s SpaceX firm to and from the space station. For years, NASA had been paying Russian Soyuz rockets tens of millions of dollars each seat for trips to and from the space station.

The Russian announcement will undoubtedly fuel rumors that Moscow is negotiating with the West to lift sanctions related to the conflict in Ukraine. Dmitry Rogozin, Borisov’s predecessor, stated last month that Moscow could only participate in discussions over a potential extension of the station’s activities if the United States lifted its sanctions against Russian space companies.

Russia, the United States, Europe, Japan, and Canada all share management of the space station. Since the outpost’s first component was sent into orbit in 1998, it has been continually inhabited for almost 22 years. It is used to test out equipment for upcoming moon and Mars missions as well as perform scientific study in zero gravity.

A crew of seven people generally works on the station for months at a period as it travels about 260 miles (420 kilometers) above Earth. Currently on board are three Russians, three Americans, and one Italian.

The about football field-length, $100 billion-plus facility is divided into two main sections: one is controlled by Russia, and the other is by the United States and the other nations.

What will need to be changed on the Russian side of the complex to keep the space station running safely after Moscow leaves was not immediately obvious.

Former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who spent 340 continuous days aboard the International Space Station in 2015 and 2016, said that the Russian statement “could be just more bluster,” noting that ”after 2024″ is vague and open-ended.

I believe Russia will stay as long as they can afford to as without ISS they have no human spaceflight program, he said. Cooperation with the West also shows some amount of legitimacy to other, nonaligned nations and to their own people, which Putin needs as the war in Ukraine has damaged his credibility.

Former Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield tweeted in reaction to the announcement:

Remember that Russia’s best game is chess.

Kelly said the design of the station would make it difficult but not impossible for the remaining nations to operate it if Russia were to withdraw.

Jordan Bimm, a historian of science, technology and medicine at the University of Chicago, said the Russian statement “does not bode well for the future of the ISS,” adding that “it creates a constellation of uncertainties about maintaining the station which don’t have easy answers.”

What will ‘leaving’ look like? he questioned. “Will the last cosmonauts simply undock a Soyuz and return to Earth, leaving the Russian-built modules attached? Will they render them inoperable before leaving? Will NASA and its international partners have to negotiate to buy them out and continue using them? Can these modules even be maintained without Russian know-how?

Although it is technically possible to continue operating the station after the Russians leave, according to Bimm, “practically it could be a nightmare depending on how hard Russia wanted to make it for NASA and its remaining partners.”

The most pressing issue would be how to periodically boost the complex to maintain its orbit if the Russian components of the station were separated or rendered unworkable, he said. The station’s orbit is raised and aligned using Russian spacecraft that deliver supplies and crew to the station.

The replacement of Moscow’s ground communications is one of the additional factors, according to Scott Pace, director of the George Washington University Space Policy Institute.

It remains to be seen whether the Russians will, in fact, be able to launch and maintain their own. independent station.

The Ukrainian crisis and the Western sanctions that have restricted Russia’s access to Western technology have made it clear that Russia has made no effort to create its own space station thus far, and the task now seems particularly difficult.

The Soviets and later the Russians had a number of their own space stations, notably Mir, long before the International Space Station was developed. The United States also had Skylab.

Given the warnings coming out of Moscow, according to John Logsdon, founder and former director of the George Washington University institution, NASA has had plenty of time to prepare for a Russian pullout and would be failing in its duty if it hadn’t been considering this for a while.

One alternative is to declare victory with the station and use this as an excuse to deorbit it and put the money into exploration, he said, adding: Its political value clearly has declined over time.

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