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Russia may soon declare international space pullout ; not official yet

NASA has identified Russia as key to keeping the space station running and has emphasized the technical interdependence of the US and Russian segments of the ISS.

Russia’s new space chief said on Tuesday his country plans to withdraw from the International Space Station after 2024, although a senior NASA official said Moscow had not communicated its intention to withdraw from the two-decade-old orbital partnership with the United States.

While heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have for months raised doubts about future US-Russian space cooperation, the announcement by Yuri Borisov, the newly appointed CEO of the Russian space agency Roskosmos, came as a surprise.

The two former Cold War adversaries signed a crew swap agreement less than two weeks ago, allowing American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts to share flights on their spacecraft to and from the International Space Station (ISS) in the future.

The US space agency has said it plans to keep the ISS operational until 2030.

“Of course, we will fulfill all our obligations to our partners, but the decision to withdraw from the station after 2024 has been made,” Borisov told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday.

Robyn Gates, NASA’s director of the ISS, said her Russian counterparts had not communicated any such intention as required by the intergovernmental agreement on an in-orbit research platform.

“Nothing official yet,” Gates said in an interview at the ISS conference in Washington. “We just saw that too. We didn’t get anything official.”

US State Department spokesman Ned Price also said the Russian announcement was unexpected and called it an “unfortunate development”.

Launched in 1998, the ISS has been manned continuously since November 2000 and is operated by a US-Russia partnership that also includes Canada, Japan and 11 European countries.

The space station was born in part of a foreign policy initiative to improve US-Russian relations after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Cold War animosity that fueled the original US-Soviet space race.

The ISS arrangement, which has endured numerous tensions over the years, has become one of the last links of civil cooperation since Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine sent Washington-Moscow relations to a new post-Cold War low.

NASA and Roskosmos have been in talks to extend Russia’s participation in the ISS until 2030. The White House this year approved NASA’s plans to continue operating the ISS until then.

NASA officials previously said bilateral cooperation aboard the space station remained intact.

Borisov’s remarks on Tuesday followed a similar pattern to that of his predecessor, Dmitry Rogozin, who during his tenure had occasionally signaled an intention to withdraw from the ISS — in contrast to official talks between NASA and Roscosmos.

Asked for clarification on Russia’s space station plans, a Roscosmos spokeswoman referred Reuters to Borisov’s remarks without saying whether it represented the agency’s official position.

NASA has identified Russia as key to keeping the space station running and has emphasized the technical interdependence of the US and Russian segments of the ISS.

For example, while American gyroscopes provide day-to-day control over the ISS’s orientation in space and American solar arrays augment the Russian module’s power supply, the Russian unit provides the propulsion used to keep the station in orbit.

The football field-sized station orbits about 250 miles (400 km) above Earth.

Former Russian space chief Rogozin has previously said Russia cannot agree to extend its role on the ISS beyond 2024 unless the United States lifts sanctions against two Russian companies blacklisted for suspected military ties. Putin fired Rogozin as space chief on July 15 and replaced him with Borisov, a former deputy prime minister and deputy defense minister.

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