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Russia plans to withdraw from International Space Station after 2024

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Russia's space agency Roscosmos head Yury Borisov at the Kremlin in Moscow on July 26, 2022.    (MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images North America/TNS)

MOSCOW — Russia plans to withdraw from the International Space Station (ISS) project after 2024, the new head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, Yuri Borisov, said during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday.

“Of course, we will fulfill all our obligations, but the decision to exit the station after 2024 has been made,” Borisov said.

His predecessor, Dmitry Rogozin, had recently repeatedly questioned the cooperation with the United States amid political tensions between Moscow and Washington in the wake of the war in Ukraine.

Borisov said that the construction of a Russian space station should be started by the time of the exit.

Previously, Rogozin had not ruled out the possibility of uncoupling the Russian module from the ISS and continuing to operate it independently.

In its current constellation, the ISS involves the U.S., Russia, Canada, Japan and member states of the European Space Agency (ESA). Moscow’s departure would bring major changes to the operation.

Even before Tuesday’s announcement, it had been unclear what would become of the 24-year-old ISS in the coming years, as it gets closer to the end of its operating life. It has been beset by a growing number of technical issues.

There had been several indications that Moscow was likely to make such a move following Moscow’s war on neighboring Ukraine, started on Feb. 24.

The ensuing sanctions, imposed by Western countries and affecting Russia’s space industry, have prompted complaints by Roscosmos about major technical problems.

As Moscow prepares an independent space station mission, the chief designer of the Russian rocket builder Energiya, Vladimir Solovyov, said that the first module for the new Russian orbiting outpost could be launched into space in 2028, if a commitment is made by the end of the year.

The module could be launched with an Angara-A5M rocket from the Vostochny spaceport, he said.

Up until Moscow’s announcement, the ISS was seen as a symbol of international cooperation, with U.S. astronaut Thomas Marshburn calling it a place of peace on the ISS in May as he handed over command to his Russian colleague Oleg Artemyev.

Germany, meanwhile, is focusing on the future. “The joint space ventures, such as the ISS, were always peace projects as well. The fact that Russia will now withdraw from the International Space Station once again highlights the Kremlin’s isolationist course,” said Reinhard Houben, economic policy spokesperson for the parliamentary group of the pro-business FDP.

He said the move meant European space travel must become more efficient.