Russia to NASA: Sticking with space station until own new outpost is built

The space station offers one of the last holdouts of cooperation between the US and Russia, though its fate has been called into question since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

 A view of the full NASA Gateway configuration orbiting the Moon with Orion approaching Gateway (Illustrative). (photo credit: NASA/Alberto Bertolin/Flickr)
A view of the full NASA Gateway configuration orbiting the Moon with Orion approaching Gateway (Illustrative).
(photo credit: NASA/Alberto Bertolin/Flickr)

Russian space officials informed their US counterparts on Tuesday that Moscow expects to remain on the International Space Station (ISS) at least until the country's own outpost in orbit is built, a senior NASA official told Reuters on Wednesday.

Yuri Borisov, the newly appointed director-general of Russia's space agency Roscosmos, surprised NASA on Tuesday by announcing that Moscow intended to end the longstanding space station partnership "after 2024." 

"We must take into account that if we stop manned flights for several years, then it will be very difficult to restore what has been achieved."

Vladimir Solovyov, the flight director for the space stations Russian segment

Kathy Lueders, NASA's space operations chief, said in an interview that Russian officials later on Tuesday told the US space agency that Roscosmos would remain in the partnership as Russia works to get its planned orbital outpost, named ROSS, up and running.

 Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a ceremony to launch a new large-scale production facility at the plant of Bratskchemsyntez drugmaker owned by Pharmasyntez Group, via a video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia November 26, 2020 (credit: SPUTNIK/ALEKSEY NIKOLSKYI/KREMLIN VIA REUTERS) Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a ceremony to launch a new large-scale production facility at the plant of Bratskchemsyntez drugmaker owned by Pharmasyntez Group, via a video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia November 26, 2020 (credit: SPUTNIK/ALEKSEY NIKOLSKYI/KREMLIN VIA REUTERS)

"We're not getting any indication at any working level that anything's changed," Lueders told Reuters, adding that NASA's relations with Roscosmos remain "business as usual."

The space station, a science laboratory spanning the size of a football field and orbiting some 250 miles (400 km) above Earth, has been continuously occupied for more than two decades under a US-Russian-led partnership that also includes Canada, Japan and 11 European countries.

It offers one of the last holdouts of cooperation between the United States and Russia, though its fate has been called into question since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

A formal agreement to extend Russia's participation beyond 2024 has not yet been made. NASA, Russia and the station's other partners plan to discuss the prospect of extending each other's presence on the laboratory to 2030 during a periodic meeting on Friday of the board that oversees the station's management, Lueders said.

Roscosmos published on its website on Wednesday an interview with Vladimir Solovyov, the flight director for the space station's Russian segment, who was quoted as saying Russia must remain on the station until ROSS is operating.

"We, of course, need to continue operating the ISS until we create a more or less tangible backlog for ROSS," Solovyov said. "We must take into account that if we stop manned flights for several years, then it will be very difficult to restore what has been achieved."

The American and Russian segments of the space station were deliberately built to be intertwined and technically interdependent.