We explain to you why the departure of Russia “after 2024” weighs on the atmosphere

A long and extensive international cooperation ends. Yuri Borissov, the new boss of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, announced on Tuesday July 26 that Russia will leave the International Space Station (ISS) “after 2024”. A real big bang since, since its beginning, the ISS is the result of coordinated work between the United States, Russia, Europe, Canada and Japan. Franceinfo returns to this situation with five questions.

What did the Roscosmos boss say?

“Without a doubt we will fulfill all our obligations regarding our partners (…) but the decision to leave this station after 2024 has been taken”, said Yuri Borissov during a televised meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Here are the pictures (in Russian) from the Russian news agency Tass.

Yuri Borisov then sketched Russia’s future in space: “I think that at that time we will start to build the Russian orbital station”who will be “the top priority” of the national space program. “The future of the flights managed by Russia must be based above all on a systematic and balanced scientific program so that every flight can improve our knowledge”he specified.

“It is a great honor for me, but also additional obligations”Yuri Borissov also commented. “The space domain is in a difficult situation, and I think my main task (…) is not to lower the bar, but to raise it, above all by providing space services that necessary for the Russian economy.”

How will NASA and ESA react?

Robyn Gatens, NASA’s ISS director, held a press conference in Washington shortly after this announcement. “We have not received any official statement from our partner regarding today’s news”he assured. “So we will discuss their plans further.” But do the Americans want the Russians to leave the International Space Station? “Not at all”he said.

“They’ve been great partners, as have all of our partners, and we want to continue working together, as a partnership, to operate the space station for the decade.”

Robyn Gatens, NASA’s ISS director

in a press conference

The fact that Russia will leave the ISS after 2024 and build its own space station “Not new and discussed in the past”notes on its part the European Space Agency (ESA), contacted by franceinfo.

What is the context of this ad?

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, international space cooperation with Russia has been stopped or suspended, such as the Russian launch from Kourou, in Guyana, or the Exomars mission. But inside the ISS, work continues.

“The ISS remains in this little space bubble, away from the ground wars. A place where Russia, the United States and Europe work together.”

Mathilde Fontanez, editor-in-chief of “Epsiloon” magazine

at franceinfo

“Although the scientific collaboration between German and Russian astronauts has been interrupted.lined up scientific journalist.

It was noticed on March 30, more than a month after the start of the Russian offensive: an American astronaut returned from the ISS aboard a Soyuz spacecraft with two Russian cosmonauts, as reported in France Inter.

American astronaut Mark Vande Hei is taken after landing on Earth in Kazakhstan on March 30, 2022. He made the journey from the International Space Station to earth with two Russian cosmonauts and aboard a Soyuz spacecraft.  (RUSSIAN SPACE AGENCY ROSCOSMOS/AFP)

Recently, NASA announced in mid-July that it will resume joint missions with the Russians to the ISS to ensure “continuing operations” from the resort. Two American astronauts will fly aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket on two separate missions, the first of which is scheduled for September. Two Russian cosmonauts will also fly aboard SpaceX rockets, first.

Recently, Samantha Cristoforetti made the first spacewalk of a European astronaut from the ISS on July 22. The Italian worked for six hours, at an altitude of about 400 km, together with the Russian cosmonaut Oleg Artemiev.

“On board the Station, they are all professionals: the Russians do the work, others too. All of them are trained to work together, and they are in such conditions that they can only work together”said geographer Isabelle Sourbès-Verger, CNRS researcher and specialist in space issues.

What are the consequences for the ISS?

At this point, everything remains clear. But to understand the implications of Russia’s withdrawal, we must return to its role. In these past years, “The big change for the Russians is that we no longer need their ship to get to the International Space Station”remembers Isabelle Sourbès-Verger.

The American company SpaceX, owned by billionaire Elon Musk, actually carried out its first “operational” mission in November 2020 by sending four astronauts aboard the ISS. Thus SpaceX became the first private company to achieve this feat. With this new method of space transportation, NASA ended its nine-year reliance on Russian spacecraft. Other trips using SpaceX have taken place since, including by Frenchman Thomas Pesquet.

Russia’s confidence was further damaged when, for the first time, the ISS’s course was corrected by a non-Russian ship. Since 1998, and the start of the International Space Station, it is necessary to constantly intervene so that it does not deviate, and to avoid that it ends up crashing into the Earth. Historically, “This is the task of the Russian cargo ships. They are the only ones capable of turning on their engines to give the station a little boost and guarantee the stability of its orbit”Mathilde Fontanez explained.

In March, at the start of the war in Ukraine, Russia threatened to end these maneuvers. But at the end of June, a Cygnus cargo ship (from the industrialist Northrop Grumman), which supplies the Station with food and equipment, conducted a test before leaving the ISS. While remaining docked in tation, the freighter blew up its main engine for five minutes. This allows the ISS to climb several hundred meters.

However, this first successful attempt did not solve everything and Russia’s withdrawal had consequences. “If the Russians pull out, bringing their ability to put the station back into orbit, NASA will have to find a way to do it themselves and it won’t be easy”warned Bill Harwood, consultant on space issues, interviewed by the chain CBS (in English).

For Isabelle Sourbès-Verger, the questions arise especially in “The interview on the Russian side” of the International Space Station, and the possible difficulties it may cause. The ISS is working on an international agreement and its touch prompted long negotiations, he explained. He determined that it would happen “important discussions between lawyers” to find out the conditions of departure from Russia.

“This is a complicated situation for the Russians and for the Americans. Nobody can win this.”

Isabelle Sourbès-Verger, CNRS researcher

at franceinfo

Clearly, nothing has been decided at the moment and the operation of the ISS is guaranteed until 2024. The European Space Agency points out that Roscosmos has confirmed that it will happen. “to fulfill all obligations regarding its partners”.

When is the end of the ISS expected?

ESA intends to continue operating the European module Columbus until 2030. For its part, NASA announced at the beginning of the year that the end of the ISS is scheduled for 2031 (in English). Once emptied of valuable and reusable material, the Station will be desorbed and returned to Earth. But not just anywhere: at the point of Nemo. This place is the pole of inaccessibility of the Earth’s oceans. “There is almost nothing in this part of the South Pacific: no islands, no inhabitants, almost no sea or air traffic”, said Benjamin Bastida Virgili, engineer at the space debris office of ESA, to franceinfo. This is where the Mir station ended in 2001 and the Skylab station in 1979.

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