The new head of the Russian Space Agency announced on Tuesday that Russia will leave the International Space Station after the end of its current commitment at the end of 2024.
“The decision was made to leave the station after 2024,” said Yuri Borisov, who was appointed this month to manage Roscosmos, the state-controlled company responsible for the country’s space program.
This statement came during a meeting between Mr. Borisov and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mr. Borisov told Mr. Putin that Russia would fulfill its commitments until 2024. “I think that by this time we will begin to form the Russian orbital station,” he said.
“This might be a rant from the Russians,” said Phil Larson, the White House space adviser during the Obama administration. “It can be reconsidered or it can come to fruition.”
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NASA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Speaking from orbit to a conference on space station research, Kjell Lindgren, a NASA astronaut, said nothing has changed there so far.
He said, “This is very recent news, and so we have not heard anything official. Of course, you know, we have been trained to do a mission here, and this mission requires the entire crew.”
It is uncertain whether the station can operate without Russian interference after 2024. The outpost in orbit consists of two divisions, one led by NASA and the other led by Russia. The two are interrelated. Much of the power on the Russian side comes from NASA’s solar panels, while the Russians provide the push to periodically raise the orbit.
But as tensions between Washington and Moscow escalated after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Russian space officials, including Borisov’s predecessor, Dmitry Rogozin, have issued statements in recent months that Russia plans to leave. But they left ambiguity about when or whether the final decision had been made. NASA officials, who want to extend space station operations until 2030, have expressed confidence in Russia’s survival.
For the most part, operations on the space station continued without interruption. In March, NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hee returned to Earth in a Russian Soyuz capsule as planned. NASA and Roscomos have just finalized a deal that would give Russian cosmonauts seats on a US-made spacecraft in exchange for NASA astronauts to ride into orbit on Russian Soyuz rockets.
However, Russia was sharply criticized by NASA this month after the Russian space agency distributed pictures of the three Russian cosmonauts on the space station carrying flags of Russian-backed separatists in two provinces of Ukraine.
Russia has plans for its own space station, but Roscosmos has been cash-strapped for years. After the US space shuttles retired in 2011, NASA was forced to purchase seats on Soyuz rockets, providing a steady stream of money for the Russians. That revenue dried up after SpaceX began providing transportation for NASA astronauts two years ago. Russia has lost additional sources of income as a result of economic sanctions that have prevented European companies and other countries from launching satellites on its missiles.
“Without cooperation with the West, the Russian space program is impossible in all its parts, including the military one,” said Pavel Luzhin, a Russian military and space analyst.
Russia is also looking forward to further cooperation with China’s space program, which launched a laboratory unit on Sunday to add to its space station, Tiangong. But Tiangong is not in an orbit accessible to Russian launchers.
“The prospects for cooperation with China are just an illusion,” said Mr. Lusin. The Chinese viewed Russia as a potential partner until 2012 and have since held back. Today, Russia cannot offer anything to China in terms of space. ”