Russia says it will withdraw from the International Space Station (ISS) after 2024 to focus on building its own orbiting space outpost, the newly appointed chief of the state space agency, Roscosmos said Tuesday.
Roscosmos chief Yury Borisov appointed this month to head Roscosmos, said during a meeting with President Vladimir Putin that “the decision to leave this station after 2024 has been made.”
“You know that we are working within the framework of international cooperation at the International Space Station. Undoubtedly, we will fulfill all our obligations to our partners, but the decision to leave the station after 2024 has been made,” Borisov told Putin in the Kremlin-issued readout.
He added: “I think that by that time we will start forming a Russian orbiting station” calling the space program its main “priority.”
The decision to withdraw has been primarily made due to the high tensions between Moscow and the West over the fighting in Ukraine and several rounds of unprecedented sanctions against Russia. The ISS is one of the last standing partnerships between the U.S. and the Kremlin that was constructed as a key symbol of post-Cold War cooperation between both countries.
Borisov’s statement reiterated previous declarations made by the previous Roscosmos head, Dmitry Rogozin, about Moscow’s intention to leave the space station after 2024 when the current international arrangements for its operation end. It wants to focus its efforts on building its own space station in 2024.
Despite the rift, NASA and Roscosmos had recently signed an agreement to swap seats for NASA astronauts and Russian cosmonauts aboard each other’s respective launch vehicles — Russia’s Soyuz and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon — beginning this fall.
According to the agreement, the space station will always have at least one American and one Russian on board the ISS to ensure both sides of the orbiting outpost run smoothly.
While the ISS was originally intended to be retired sometime around 2024, NASA changed its official retirement date to 2030.
“It’s an unfortunate development given the critical scientific work performed at the ISS,” said Ned Price, a State Department spokesman. “The United States and Russia have cooperated on space exploration … over the course of decades.”
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said the agency “is committed to the safe operation of the International Space Station through 2030, and is coordinating with our partners. NASA has not been made aware of decisions from any of the partners, though we are continuing to build future capabilities to assure our major presence in low-Earth orbit.”
Robyn Gatens, NASA’s Director of the ISS at a conference on Tuesday, said she still hasn’t heard anything official from her Russian counterparts about withdrawing from the collaboration. However, she suggested that “the Russians, just like us, are thinking ahead to what’s next for them. 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.”