Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, has announced plans for a new space station following Moscow’s withdrawal from the International Space Station (ISS).
According to the state-affiliated news agency Tass, Roscosmos’ Energia Rocket and Space Corporation unveiled a model of a Russian orbital station at the Army-2022 forum, which included several research modules, a service platform and a future Oryol spacecraft docked.
It comes after Yuri Borisov, the director general of Roscosmos, announced in July that Russia was withdrawing from the ISS after 2024 and planned to build its own station.
“The decision to leave the station after 2024 has been taken,” Borisov said during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Borisov had replaced Dmitry Rogozin as the new director general of Roscosmos a few days earlier.
However, it has become increasingly unclear whether Russia will actually pull out. During a live NASA briefing on August 4, Sergei Krikalev, executive director of human spaceflight programs at Roscosmos, said that Borisov’s statement may have been “lost in translation”, and that ” the statement actually said that Russia would not withdraw from the program until after 2024.”
“That means until the end of 2024, there will be no change. And after 2024, that can mean 2025, 2028, or 2030, and that specific concrete decision about stopping the program will be based on the state technical station and evaluation of all partners,” he said.
After Borisov’s announcement in July, Roscosmos posted a plan for its future Russian space station on social media, but the Army-2022 forum is the first time a physical mockup has been posted.
Russia and the United States have collaborated on the ISS since the 1990s, despite occasional tensions.
It’s not even the first time Russia’s military actions have caused problems in space: in response to US sanctions over the 2014 Crimea invasion, Russia said NASA would not be allowed to access the ISS by 2020. Current plans for a Russian-only space station and isolation of the ISS are also linked to international condemnation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Although plans for this station have now been revealed, it remains to be seen whether or not they will materialize.
“I think it’s a posture on the part of the Russians. They don’t have the money to build their own station and it would take several years to do it. They don’t have anything else if they take this way,” said the former ISS commander and retiree. American astronaut Dr Leroy Chiao told the BBC.
If Russia does indeed leave the ISS and build its own station, the ISS will have to adapt to life without the collaboration of Roscosmos.
Russia operates six of the ISS’s 17 modules, including the Zvezda module containing the main engine system. The ISS also relies on regular orbital boosts from Russian Progress spacecraft to keep the station in orbit. Without Russia, NASA will have to do it alone. However, NASA tested using a Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft to relaunch the station, which was first successful in June this year.