Russia's space agency has signaled it may well continue maintaining its chunk of the International Space Station to potentially as far out as 2030. Or as early as 2025.
Roscosmos chief Yuri Borisov last month said the motherland was going to pull out of the ISS after 2024 and instead use its own space station.
To allay fears of a certain rapid withdrawal from that date, Vladimir Solovyov, the ISS's Russian flight director, quickly clarified that a fully Russian station isn't likely to be built and ready to use until 2028, and thus his country would ideally continue to participate in the ISS until around then.
"We must take into account that if we stop manned flights [to the ISS] for several years, then it will be very difficult to restore what has been achieved," the director noted.
Now Sergei Krikalev, executive director of human space flight programs at Roscosmos, has reiterated at a NASA-led briefing that his nation only said it was leaving the international platform after 2024, which means it could stay on to, say, the end of the decade. Or quit as soon as the following year. Who knows with Russia?
The decision about the termination of the program will be based on the technical condition of the station and assessment of outcomes
"Perhaps something was lost in the translation," Krikalev said through an interpreter during a discussion on the upcoming SpaceX Crew-5 mission to send four astronauts to the ISS, SpaceNews reported Thursday.
"The statement actually said that Russia will not pull out of the program until after 2024. This means that, up until the end of 2024, there will be no changes. After 2024 could mean 2025, 2028 or 2030. The decision about the termination of the program will be based on the technical condition of the station and assessment of outcomes."
There's every chance the ISS will continue as is to 2030, if it doesn't break down and all the countries involved in it work together to keep the lights on. Let's not forget that Russia is illegally invading Ukraine right now, to condemnation and sanctions by the West.
US Congress passed the Chips and Science Act, authorizing a whopping $280 billion in public spending, last week, which included an extension of the ISS's American operations to 2030. It had permission, though not the funds, to operate until that date.
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NASA's space operations chief Kathy Lueders said there had been no change in its working relationship with Roscosmos, describing it as "business as usual."
"We're not getting any indication at any working level that anything's changed," Lueders said after Borisov's comments last month.
The ISS was launched in 1998, and is deteriorating with old age. Numerous cracks and leaks have plagued the orbiting lab over years; they're difficult to find and patch, and are only really noticeable when a drop in air pressure is detected. Plus there's impact damage from space debris.
Although both Roscosmos and NASA have plans to build new space stations, it'll take a while for plans to materialize. NASA has set an ambitious goal contracting with private companies to develop something by 2024, while Roscosmos believes it will have something ready by 2028.
Until then, both agencies will have to go with what they have, a creaky ISS, if they want to continue conducting research in space. ®