Russia signals withdrawal of space station; NASA says it’s not official yet

WASHINGTON, July 26 (Reuters) – Russia’s new space chief said on Tuesday his country plans to withdraw from the International Space Station after 2024, but senior NASA officials said Moscow has not officially announces its intention to end its two-decade-old orbital partnership. with the United States.

As heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have raised months of doubt over future US-Russian space cooperation, the announcement by Yuri Borisov, the new chief executive of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, surprised.

The two former Cold War adversaries signed a crew swap agreement less than two weeks ago allowing US astronauts and Russian cosmonauts to share flights on each other’s spacecraft in the future to and from the International Space Station (ISS). Read more

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NASA Administrator Bill Nelson released a statement reiterating the United States’ commitment to keeping the ISS in service until 2030, adding that the space agency is “coordinating with our partners.”

“NASA has not been informed of the decisions of any of our partners, although we continue to develop future capabilities to support our major presence in low Earth orbit,” he said.

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

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

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

“Nothing official yet,” Gatens said in an interview at an ISS conference in Washington. “We don’t have anything official.”

White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Peters also said Moscow “has not formally notified the United States of its intention to withdraw from the ISS.”

“We are exploring options to mitigate potential impacts to the ISS beyond 2024 if Russia withdraws,” she added during a briefing for reporters.

The International Space Station (ISS) photographed by Expedition 56 crew members from a Soyuz spacecraft after undocking, October 4, 2018. NASA/Roscosmos/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

STRAINED SPACE RELATIONS

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

The ISS arrangement, which has endured many strains over the years, remained one of the last ties of civil cooperation as Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine plunged relations between Washington and Moscow. into a new post-Cold War low.

NASA and Roscosmos were 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 remains intact.

Borisov’s remarks on Tuesday followed a similar pattern to those of his predecessor, Dmitry Rogozin, who during his tenure occasionally signaled his intention to withdraw from the ISS – contrary to formal talks between NASA and Roscosmos.

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

The American and Russian segments of the ISS, spanning the size of a football field and orbiting about 250 miles (400 km) above Earth, were deliberately built to be intertwined and technically interdependent.

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

“You can’t divorce amicably,” Garrett Reisman, a retired NASA astronaut and current professor of astronautical engineering at the University of Southern California, told Reuters. “We’re kind of stuck together.”

Former Russian space chief Rogozin previously said that Russia could not agree to extend its role in the ISS beyond 2024 unless the United States lifts sanctions against two Russian companies listed on the blacklisted for alleged military ties. Putin dismissed Rogozin as space chief on July 15, replacing him with Borisov, a former deputy prime minister and deputy defense minister.

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Reporting by Joey Roulette in Washington; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom and Trevor Hunnicutt in Washington and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Will Dunham, Mark Porter, Jonathan Oatis and Marguerita Choy

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