MOSCOW (AP) — Russia will exit the International Space Station after 2024 and focus on building its own orbit, the country’s new space chief said Tuesday, amid heightened tensions over fighting in Ukraine between Moscow and the West.
Yuri Borisov, appointed this month to lead the state space agency Roscosmos, said during a meeting with President Vladimir Putin that Russia would fulfill its obligations to its partners before pulling out of the program.
“It has been decided to leave the station after 2024,” Borisov said: “I think at that time we will start building the Russian orbital station.”
Borisov’s statement reaffirmed earlier announcements by Russian space officials about Moscow’s desire to leave the space station after 2024, when current international arrangements for its operation end.
NASA and other international partners hope to keep the space station operational until 2030, while the Russians are reluctant to make commitments beyond 2024.
NASA had no immediate comment.
The space station is jointly operated by the space agencies of Russia, the United States, Europe, Japan and Canada. The first part was put into orbit in 1998, and the outpost has been continuously inhabited for nearly 22 years. It is used to conduct scientific research in zero gravity and test equipment for future space missions.
It typically consists of a crew of seven who spend months at a time on the station as they orbit about 250 miles from Earth. Three Russians, three Americans and one Italian are now on board.
The complex, which is the length of a football field, has two main sections, one run by Russia and the other by the US and other countries. It was not immediately clear what the Russian side of the complex would need to do to safely operate the space station once Moscow leaves.
The Russian announcement is sure to spark speculation that it is part of a ploy by Moscow to seek relief from Western sanctions over the conflict in Ukraine.
Borisov’s predecessor, Dmitry Rogozin, said last month that Moscow could participate in talks on extending the station’s operations only if the United States lifted sanctions against Russian space industries.
With Elon Musk’s SpaceX now sending NASA astronauts to the space station, the Russian space agency lost a major source of income. For years, NASA has paid millions of dollars per seat on Russian rockets to and from the station.
Despite tensions over Ukraine, NASA and Roscosmos struck a deal earlier this month to allow Russian astronauts to continue riding Russian rockets and catch elevators to the space station with SpaceX as early as this fall. But there will be no money exchange on flights.
According to NASA and Russian officials, the agreement ensures that there will always be at least one American and one Russian on the space station to ensure smooth operation on both sides of the outpost.
Moscow and Washington cooperated in space even at the height of the Cold War, with the Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft connecting in orbit on the first crewed international space mission in 1975, helping to improve US-Soviet relations.
Instead of the International Space Station, NASA is working with American companies to establish their own space stations. NASA hopes to have these commercial space stations operational by the end of the decade.
Marcia Dunn in Cape Canaveral contributed to this report.
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