Russia announced on Tuesday that it will stop participating in the International Space Station (ISS) “after 2024”. “We will undoubtedly fulfill all our obligations to our partners” from the ISS, announced the head of the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos) Yuri Borisov, “but the decision to leave the station after 2024 was socket”.
It raises questions about the future of space missions and the survival of the aging station, which the Europeans, Japanese, Russians and Americans collaborate on. ISS began assembly in 1998. Its retirement was scheduled for 2024, but NASA estimates it could operate until the 2030s.
We stock up with Isabelle Sourbès-Verger, geographer, director of research at CNRS and expert on the occupation of space.
NASA has expressed its “surprise” following the announcement of Russia’s withdrawal from the ISS in 2024. But is it really surprising to know that Russian-Western cooperation in space has been strained since the start of the invasion of Ukraine?
“NASA said it was a surprise because an official statement was not made as part of the management of the partnership. It was a political decision that read in the same way that the Americans discussed the voyage of an astronaut with the Soyuz flight. Russia had an advantage that previously it was for both men and women and equipment. The ISS was the only service for transportation. But for SpaceX and Elon Musk, and soon the US began to become autonomous with the Blue Origin launchers. So the station, which has more problems and breakdowns, became relatively expensive to maintain for Russia, which soon for transportation. There will be no more payments. Add to this the situation in Ukraine and the way Russia is now directly opposing the Americans. So in the end, this announcement is not so surprising, no. »
Besides these transports, what has Russia contributed to the space station?
“The two main modules of the ISS, the assets and the survivability, are two Russian modules. And even Soviet as they are similar to those present at Mir Station, the largest of the Soviet stations. The Americans set up the ISS in very close cooperation with the Russians, who provided their expertise, equipment and experience. »
Countries are said to be interdependent within the ISS. Will the station be able to function normally after 2024 when the Russians leave?
“There is a lot of discussion to come, and this Russian announcement is somewhat of a way to rush the situation, no doubt to play the political side of the conflict to show that Russia can hinder the Americans in space. The operation of the ISS can be somewhat complicated. Russia cannot leave like this, the space station is an international agreement and states are bound by their signatures. The question everyone is asking is what to do with the Russians’ modules once they leave. Will they just stop serving them? And in this case who takes responsibility for maintenance, which is very expensive? Or are the Russians planning to deorbit their modules? But then that too would be very expensive and could only be done in partnership with the Americans. And this means that the Americans will be forced to complete the station in 2024 when they planned to go further, depending on the resources of private actors…”
No one wins in this story: neither the Russians, nor the Americans, nor the Europeans, who will follow NASA’s movements and harm Russia.
Could the departure of the Russians hasten the termination of the ISS and the construction of a new station by Europe, Japan and the United States?
“It’s pressing, most definitely. But there won’t be a successor to the ISS in the West because the US and Europe have no intention of building a new station around Earth. The next manned space station will be around the Moon. Trump announced it for 2024, but it’s a There was a very short deadline, especially since he forgot to give the budgets that go with it. So it’s going to be a bit of a shake-up. The Americans had the idea in advance to make the ISS as profitable as possible, possibly involving private actors who want to do space tourism. But the station is maintained. It’s expensive to do, it’s also expensive to operate, and NASA couldn’t afford the financial costs of two ground and lunar stations. So it’s going to separate from the ISS, but it’s going to take funding to properly and cleanly deorbit all the modules and put them back into the atmosphere. It’s going to be complicated, This is a technological initiative that the United States has never undertaken, since Russia removed the Mir station from the Russians Departures would not help matters as a certain number of Russian ships were planned for orbiting the station.
What does Russia want to do after leaving the ISS? Cooperate with China on a new space station? Build your own station?
“The Russians and Chinese plan to cooperate in lunar space missions around the Moon and on the Moon. From the Chinese side, the idea is to demonstrate strong cooperation with Russia, which serves as an alternative to the American command in space. To build their own space station around the Earth, the Russians must do it. will be able to. But what would it mean to put a station in orbit around the Earth when the Americans want to build a station around the Moon? »