Russia could end its role in the International Space Station by 2024


The director general of Russia’s Roscosmos space agency has threatened to end its Russia’s involvement with the ISS.

Russia could end its cooperation on the International Space Station in as little as two years, using the sanctions imposed on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine as an excuse, according to space experts.

Most commentators characterize the threats by the director general of Russia’s Roscosmos space agency to end its involvement with the orbital outpost as mere political bluster. But the threat to sever such relations could come to fruition, as some experts Live Science spoke to noted that Russia has only committed to the ISS project until 2024, rather than “after 2030” as had been proposed by NASA and other partners.

And Russia’s withdrawal from the project could mean it will be mainly up to NASA to keep the ISS physically in orbit for almost another 10 years — something that Russia has been responsible for up until now. Even further, the threats signal just how badly Russia’s actions in Ukraine have damaged ties in the scientific community between the country and the rest of the world, meaning that any science-related cooperation with Russia may be difficult, experts said.

Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin stated in Russian on Twitter(opens in new tab) on Saturday (April 2) that “normal relations” between partners on the ISS could only be restored after “the complete and unconditional lifting of illegal sanctions.”

Rogozin is a political figure with close ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin and a history of making blustery statements.

Related: Russia’s Ukraine invasion could imperil international science

He tweeted on Feb. 24 — the day Russia invaded Ukraine — that any sanctions imposed as a result could “destroy” the partnership(opens in new tab) between Russia and the United States that keeps the ISS operating and aloft.

But activities on the space station have been relatively normal since then, with the arrival of three Russian cosmonauts(opens in new tab) in mid-March and the return to Earth of NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei last week on board a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

There may be more than political posturing, however, to Rogozin’s latest threats to end Russia’s cooperation on the ISS. In his tweets on Saturday, he shared what he said was a March 30 letter from NASA administrator Bill Nelson.

That letter stated the new sanctions were designed to allow continued cooperation between the U.S. and Russia, “to ensure continued safe operations of the ISS.”

A statement by Nelson dated Sunday (April 3) and given to Live Science by a NASA spokesperson made the same point, and stressed that the “professional relationship” between astronauts and cosmonauts on the ISS was continuing to keep everyone safe on board.

But Rogozin claimed on Twitter he doesn’t agree that the ISS project can continue to operate under the international sanctions imposed on Russia.

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