The head of Russia's space agency announces the country's departure goal from the ISS.
Why it matters
The ISS is a symbol of peaceful, global scientific pursuit -- one that NASA hopes to keep in place until 2030.
The head of Russia's space agency on Tuesday announced the country's intent to withdraw from the International Space Station after 2024. A day later, Roscosmos officials clarified to NASA that Russia will remain involved with the ISS until at least 2028, according to Reuters.
The year 2028 is when Russia believes a Russian-specific orbital station will be built. NASA, meanwhile, envisions ISS operations continuing until 2030, a goal affirmed by the White House last year. Though after that, in 2031, the agency says it will "deorbit" the station by basically .
News of the proposed parting arrives amid global tensions rooted in Russia's invasion of Ukraine -- and after nearly 30 years of scientific camaraderie between the nation and the US.
"We will fulfill all our obligations to our partners, but the decision and withdrawal from this station after 2024 were made," said Yuri Borisov, according to the transcript of a Tuesday meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Borisov was appointed to his position this month.
If Russia's decision to exit the orbiting laboratory doesn't affect the US timeline, about two years of station endeavors could go on without Russian involvement. In a sense, though short, this departure could mark the dissolution of a time-honored, peaceful bond between the two countries -- one born in the name of apolitical science after the Cold War.
At a conference Tuesday, Robyn Gatens, NASA's director of the ISS, said she hadn't heard anything official from her Russian counterparts about stepping back from the collaboration, according to Reuters. But her instincts proved correct, when she suggested that "the Russians, just like us, are thinking ahead to what's next for them," as reported by CNN. "As we are planning transition after 2030 to commercially operated space stations in low-Earth orbit, they have a similar plan. And so they're thinking about that transition as well."
In his earlier meeting with Putin, Borisov offered some direct context, too. The former Russian deputy prime minister said his main hope is that by 2024, Russia will begin to form its own orbital station. But more generally, Borisov also said he wants to refocus Roscosmos' attention on space services vital to the Russian economy. This includes communication, data transmission and meteorological and geodetic information, he said. Geodetic information is a type of Earth science focused on the geometry of our planet.
Already, the Russian agency had publicly considered the possibility of leaving the ISS. And tensions surrounding Russia's war against Ukraine have only exacerbated this desire.
Among a few rather bizarre threats, like floating the idea of dropping the ISS on the US, former Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin, threatened to pull his nation out of the ISS program. He made pointed declarations like "the decision has been taken already; we're not obliged to talk about it publicly," in reference to removing ties to the orbiting science hub, according to Bloomberg.
Mirroring Borisov's recent sentiments, Rogozin also said "in accordance with our obligations, we'll inform our partners about the end of our work on the ISS with a year's notice."