Russian space corporation Roscosmos has finally formally announced that it's abandoning the International Space Station — but it's keeping details extraordinarily vague, simply saying it'll leave at some point "after 2024."
That's at least in part because Russia is planning to build its own space station. The country's invasion of Ukraine has also only served to accelerate the severing of its ties with the international space community.
The news also comes just two weeks after former deputy prime minister Yuri Borisov took over as the head of Roscosmos, replacing embattled and outspoken warmonger Dmitri Rogozin.
"Of course, we will fulfill all our obligations to our partners, but the decision about withdrawing from the station after 2024 has been made," Borisov said during a meeting with president Vladimir Putin, as quoted by Reuters. "I think that by that time we will start forming a Russian orbiting station."
Putin reportedly responded with "good."
"Asked for clarification on Russia's space station plans," Reuters space reporter Joey Roulette tweeted, "a Roscosmos spokeswoman referred Reuters to Borisov's remarks without saying whether it represented the agency's official position."
One valid reading is that Russia's latest edict is intentionally vague. In many ways, we still have no idea when the country will leave the station as "after 2024" leaves open plenty of other interpretations.
Meanwhile, NASA is still planning on keeping ISS operations running with its international partners until at least 2030.
"The withdrawal will take some time," Russian military and space analyst Pavel Luzin told The New York Times. "Most likely, we need to interpret this as Russia’s refusal to extend the station’s operation up until 2030."
What makes matters even more awkward is that NASA director for the ISS Robyn Gates confirmed to Reuters that she had yet to hear from her Russian counterparts.
"Nothing official yet," Gatens told Reuters. "We literally just saw that as well. We haven't gotten anything official."
In fact, Borisov's comments come at the same time that NASA's space partners are convening at this week's International Space Station Research and Development Conference (ISSRDC).
It's not the first time Roscosmos has threatened the future of the ISS. Last year, Roscosmos sources confirmed that it had started the long process of disengaging from the orbital outpost.
But this time the tone is at least somewhat different, according to experts.
"This is more official than previous statements," Ars Technica senior space editor Eric Berger tweeted. "It also provides time to NASA and its international and commercial partners to prepare the US side to fly on its own."
Right now, Russia "provides all of the propulsion for International Space Station used for station reboost, attitude control, debris avoidance maneuvers and eventual de-orbit operations," according to a March FAQ on NASA's website.
Meanwhile, the US provides power via the station's solar arrays and some of the life support systems.
That means that if Russia goes through with the pullout, NASA will have the daunting task of devising ways of keeping the aging station in orbit on its own without Russian boosters.
At least the space agency has a way to shuttle astronauts to and from the station without relying on Russian spacecraft, thanks to SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule.
Industry players are certainly paying attention. During a panel at the ISSRDC, Mike Gold, executive vice president of US aerospace corporation Redwire, argued this morning that NASA should use the opportunity to increase commercial activities on board the aging outpost.
All told, the future of the ISS is as uncertain as ever. While NASA has pledged to keep operations going for the next eight years, its biggest partner is ready to call it quits much sooner than that.
READ MORE: Russia has not signaled space station withdrawal to NASA, U.S. official says [Reuters]
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