The head of Russia’s space agency said Friday that the country has not set a date for exiting the International Space Station program, and that it will only do so after launching its own space station into orbit.
Yuri Borisov, the new head of Russia’s state space corporation Roscosmos, told President Vladimir Putin this week that Russia has decided to leave the station after 2024 and focus on building its own orbiting station.
NASA and its partners hope to keep the International Space Station operational until 2030, but the Russian announcement has called that into question.
Borisov said in televised remarks on Friday that Russia will begin the process of leaving the station after 2024, but the exact timing will “depend on the condition of the International Space Station.”
He stated that Russia will not leave the International Space Station until it has established its own space outpost.
“The end of work on the International Space Station and the start of work on the Russian station should undoubtedly be synchronised,” Borisov said, adding that the Russian withdrawal could take up to two years.
Russia has begun design work on the new station, but no date has been set for its launch.
The International Space Station, which has served as a symbol of post-Cold War international cooperation, is now one of Russia and the West’s last remaining areas of cooperation amid tensions over Moscow’s military action in Ukraine.
The Russian announcement fueled speculation that it was part of Moscow’s manoeuvring to avoid Western sanctions over the Ukraine conflict.
Dmitry Rogozin, Borisov’s predecessor as Roscosmos chief, stated last month that Moscow would only participate in negotiations about extending the station’s operations if the United States lifted sanctions against Russian space industries.
Borisov insisted that his agency’s decision had nothing to do with politics. “There are no political aspects here, and I don’t think there should be,” he said.
“The International Space Station has enriched science by providing knowledge about the Earth and the universe, as well as bringing us all together,” Borisov said. “Politics should be avoided in such projects. I’m sorry that our joint space projects, which are vital to humanity as a whole, are becoming politicised. It’s incorrect.”
NASA officials stated that they had yet to receive a direct response from their Russian counterparts on the matter. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement that the agency is “committed to the safe operation” of the space station until 2030 and that it is “continuing to build future capabilities to ensure our major presence in low-Earth orbit.”