Russian Space Agency Threatens ISS Cooperation After Sanctions

The Russian space agency Roscosmos expressed "skepticism" about continuing its role on the International Space Station after 2024.
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The ISS in 2021. Image: NASA Johnson
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Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, has signaled renewed “skepticism” about its future participation in the International Space Station (ISS) past 2024, in the wake of sanctions levied against Russia over the nation’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Roscosmos has permission from the government to operate the ISS only until 2024,” according to a Roscosmos statement reported by the state-owned Russian news service TASS on Tuesday. “The issue of extending the agreement under the current conditions causes us skepticism.”

Sanctions limiting high-tech imports to Russia will hamper its space program, a point that President Biden made explicit when announcing the measures. "If we do not come to an agreement, this will affect the international manned space program," Roscosmos spokespeople said, according to TASS. 

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Russia’s role on the ISS cannot be overstated: The nation is a founding partner on the station, operates six of its 16 modules, manages the spacecraft’s propulsion systems, and helps deliver crews and cargo to space with its Soyuz and Progress vehicles, among other key contributions. If Russia were to pull out of the station in just two years, it could jeopardize the current plan to keep the orbital habitat up and running until at least 2030.

This marks the second time that Russia has involved the ISS in threats against the West since its invasion of Ukraine began. 

Dmitry Rogozin, the director general of Roscosmos, has been furiously criticizing the United States for its sanctions against Russia, especially those that will “degrade” the nation’s aerospace industry and space program, according to a speech President Joe Biden delivered last Thursday. Rogozin even implied that Russia could crash the ISS into the United States in a series of recent tweets, though this threat is widely considered to be a benign outburst from the Roscosmos head, who is known for bombastic statements. 

The United States, Russia, and the other member nations of the station had previously agreed to continue their partnership until 2024. While Roscosmos has raised doubts about its long-term future on the station, it also expressed a willingness to discuss its involvement with NASA in its statement. However, even before this tumultuous geopolitical moment, Russia had been hinting that it wanted to abandon its position on the ISS in favor of developing its own station by the middle of the 2020s. 

Kathy Lueders, NASA’s associate administrator for space operations, said that the longstanding collaboration between Russia and ISS nations in space has not been affected by the Russian invasion at this point.

“We are not getting any indications at a working level that our counterparts are not committed to ongoing operation on the International Space Station,” said Lueders in a media call on Monday, reports the Washington Post. “We as a team are operating just like we were operating three weeks ago.”

“Obviously we need to continue to monitor the situation,” she continued. “We've operated in these kinds of situations before and both sides always operated very professionally and understand the importance of this fantastic mission and continuing to have peaceful relations between the two countries in space.”