Russia has announced plans to leave the International Space Station after 2024. The country plans to build its own space orbit.

Moscow — Russia will leave the International Space Station after 2024 and focus on building its own orbital outpost, the country’s new space chief said on Tuesday, amid heightened tensions between Moscow and the West over fighting in Ukraine.

The announcement, though not unexpected, calls into question the future of the 24-year-old space station, with experts saying it would be extremely difficult — perhaps a “nightmare,” by one count — to keep it running without the Russians. NASA and its partners had hoped to keep it operational until 2030.

“It has been decided to leave the station after 2024,” Yuri Borisov, appointed this month to head Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, said during a meeting with President Vladimir Putin. He added: “I think by then we will have started building a Russian orbital station.”

The space station has long been a symbol of post-Cold War international teamwork in the name of science, but it is now one of the last areas of cooperation between the US and the Kremlin.

NASA had no immediate comment.

Borissov’s statement confirmed previous announcements by Russian space officials about Moscow’s intention to abandon the space station after 2024 when current international arrangements for its operation expire.

Related | Russia has threatened to release an American astronaut into space because the sanctions threaten peace on the ISS.

Russian officials have long talked about wanting to launch their own space station and have complained that the International Space Station’s aging safety is being compromised and extending its lifespan could be difficult.

Cost may also be a factor: With Elon Musk’s SpaceX now flying NASA astronauts to and from the space station, the Russian space agency lost a major source of revenue. For years, NASA was paying tens of millions of dollars per seat to fly Russian Soyuz rockets.

The Russian announcement is sure to spark speculation that it is part of Moscow’s moves to seek relief from Western sanctions over the Ukraine conflict. Borsov’s predecessor, Dmitry Rogozin, said last month that Moscow could participate in negotiations on a possible expansion of the station’s operations only if the United States lifted its sanctions against Russian space industries.

Former Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield tweeted in response to Tuesday’s announcement: “Remember that Russia’s best game is chess.”

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The space station is operated jointly by Russia, America, Europe, Japan and Canada. The first piece was placed into orbit in 1998, and the outpost has been continuously inhabited for nearly 22 years. It is used to conduct scientific research in zero gravity and test technology for future trips to the Moon and Mars.

It typically has a crew of seven, who spend months at a time on the station as it orbits about 260 miles (420 km) above Earth. Three Russians, three Americans and an Italian are now on board.

The more than $100 billion complex is as long as a football field and consists of two main sections, one run by Russia, the other by the United States and other countries. It was not immediately clear what the Russian part of the complex would have to do to safely operate the space station after Moscow’s exit.

Former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who spent 340 consecutive days aboard the International Space Station in 2015 and 2016, said the Russian statement “could be more of a blowout,” noting that “after 2024” is vague. And is open.

“I believe Russia will last as long as it can afford, as without the ISS they have no human spaceflight program.” “Cooperation with the West also brings some degree of legitimacy to other, non-aligned countries and to its own people, which Putin needs, as the war in Ukraine has damaged his reputation.”

Kelly said the station’s design would make it difficult but not impossible for other countries to operate it if Russia were to back out.

Related | NASA plans to retire the International Space Station by crashing it to Earth.

Jordan Beam, a historian of science at the University of Chicago, said the Russian statement “doesn’t bode well for the future of the ISS,” adding that it “creates uncertainty about the station’s ability to sustain itself.” There are no easy answers.”

“How would it feel to leave?” he asked. “Will the last astronauts just undock the Soyuz and return to Earth, leaving the Russian-made modules attached? Will they decommission them before they leave? Will NASA and its international partners buy them and Will there be negotiations to continue using them? Are they? The modules should be maintained even without Russian knowledge?”

Running the station after the Russian bailout “could be a nightmare depending on how difficult Russia wants to make it for NASA and the rest of its partners,” Beam said.

If the Russian parts of the station were to separate or become inoperable, the most immediate issue would be how to periodically augment the complex to maintain its orbit, he said. Russian spacecraft that arrive at the station with cargo and crew members are used to align the station and increase its orbit.

It also remains to be seen whether the Russians will actually be able to launch and maintain their own autonomous station, said Scott Pace, director of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute.

Russia has so far made no apparent effort to build its own space station, and the task appears increasingly difficult amid the Ukraine crisis and Western sanctions that have limited Russia’s access to Western technology. Is.

Before the International Space Station, the Soviets and then the Russians had several space stations of their own, including Mir. Similarly, America also had Skylab.

John Logsdon, founder and former director of the Institute at George Washington University, said NASA had plenty of time to prepare for a Russian withdrawal given the threats from Moscow and would be derelict if it didn’t think so. would do about it for many years.

“An alternative is to declare victory with the station and use it as an excuse to end its orbit and invest money in exploration,” he added: “Over time its The political value has clearly declined.”

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