Roscosmos boss revises comments on leaving ISS after 2024

WASHINGTON – The new head of Russia’s space agency backed down from comments suggesting Russia would withdraw from the International Space Station as early as 2024, but expressed doubts that Russia would be involved by 2030.

Yuri Borisov sparked alarm among other ISS partners on July 26 when he told Russian President Vladimir Putin that Russia would end its involvement in the station after 2024. The comments came as NASA and other partners move forward with plans to extend ISS operations into 2030.

In a July 29 interview with the Russia 24 TV channel, also published on the Roskosmos website, Borisov stressed that Russia will leave sometime after 2024, and not in 2024 itself. “We have stated that we do not want to do this from 2024, but after 2024,” he said, according to a translation of the document.

He said Russia will abide by the intergovernmental agreement for ISS partners, which obliges countries to give at least a year’s notice before withdrawing. The exit process could take up to two years, he added.

“We haven’t warned about it yet, there’s no need,” he said of the retreat. “We just said that after 2024 we will start the exit process. Whether it will be mid-2024 or 2025 – that actually all depends, including the performance level of the ISS itself.”

Industry sources said that Roscosmos officials privately told NASA that Russia is unlikely to withdraw from the ISS before it begins launching modules for Russia’s Orbital Service Station, a new national space station. This is not expected until 2028 at the earliest.

In the interview, Borisov expressed skepticism that Russia will remain involved in the station until 2030. One was that Russia would soon exhaust the research it wanted to conduct on the station. “From a scientific perspective, we don’t see any additional dividends that will extend this process into 2030,” he said of the research.

Another problem concerns the maintenance of the station. He said Russian engineers are concerned there could be “avalanche” failures of systems on aging modules. Because of this, “about two years ago, we started thinking seriously about continuing the manned program and developing a homegrown orbital station.”

He added that ISS crews, including those on the US segment, are now devoting time to station maintenance, which is beginning to “exceed all reasonable limits” and thus discourage research activities.

In contrast, NASA officials have stressed that there is plenty of time to explore the US segment. “We are flush with crew hours,” Kirt Costello, chief scientist for the ISS program at NASA, said during a briefing in June. “We don’t see the occupation period as a limiting factor.”

Other NASA officials, following Borisov’s earlier comments, insisted that no last-minute changes to ISS operations are planned, including no formal notification from Roscosmos of its intention to withdraw from the partnership.

“We’re staying the course,” NASA Associate Administrator Bob Cabana said July 27 at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference. “We are working to extend the International Space Station to 2030. She still has good years ahead of her.”

Borisov took over as head of Roscosmos on July 15, replacing Dmitry Rogozin, who was sacked by Putin. Borisov, previously a deputy prime minister with responsibilities that included the defense and space industries, acknowledged that Russia has fallen behind other nations in manufacturing satellites.

“If today we compare the state of the space corporations of the main players in this market – Americans, Europeans and Chinese – they have long overtaken us in this regard,” he said in the interview, which took place after a visit to a Russian spacecraft manufacturer Lavochkin.

He said a “radical restructuring” of Russia’s space industry may be needed to improve production, a process he says is being hampered by Western sanctions restricting exports of satellite-related technologies to Russia. He argued that Russia’s electronics industry is capable of producing components that are “fairly acceptable” and that Russia can work with unnamed countries that have not imposed appropriate sanctions.

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