Washington: Despite the souring relationship between Russia and the US over the war in Ukraine, Moscow is still considering extending its participation on the International Space Station (ISS) through 2030, according to NASA.
The US space agency and Russia’s state space corporation Roscosmos have been the two largest partners on the ISS for the last three decades. The two organisations have agreed to work together on the ISS through 2024, but on December 31, 2021, the Joe Biden administration committed to extending the ISS operations through 2030. Russia has not formally agreed to the extension yet, the Verge reported.
According to the NASA’s budget estimates, the ISS, launched in 1998, will be “de-orbited” in January 2031.
In January, before the Ukraine war began, CEO of Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin said that Roscosmos and NASA are in talks on extending the operation of the ISS until 2030.
But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, beginning February 24, affected space cooperation between the two countries and Roscosmos’s participation in the extension started to seem unlikely.
In response to the war, the US sanctioned Russia’s major industries, which triggered outrage from the Roscosmos chief.
On Twitter, Rogozin made wild threats about the future of the ISS, insinuating that the station could come crashing down on the US if Russia withdrew prematurely from the programme. He has also hinted at revisiting the partnership with the US in light of the sanctions.
Yet, Roscosmos has apparently not given a hard “no” on the extension and may even continue it, the report said.
“All of our international partners, including Roscosmos, are making progress on moving towards station extension through 2030,” Kathy Lueders, associate administrator of space operations at NASA, said during a press conference.
She added that every partner on the ISS must go through a budget process and receive final government approval before the extension is set.
“But we all understand the importance of this continued partnership, even in really, really, really tough times,” Lueders said.
Joel Montalbano, NASA’s ISS programme manager, discussed the possible extension in Russia with Roscosmos officials as NASA prepared for the return of astronaut Mark Vande Hei on a Russian Soyuz rocket this week, the report said.
“At the programme level, we continue discussions and continue working towards 2030,” Dana Weigel, deputy manager of NASA’s International Space Station programme, was quoted as saying.
“They touched on the subject of when Joel Montalbano was in Russia, and made no changes at all to the plan.” Weigel noted that NASA expects to get its next big update on extension plans in late April or early May.
The ISS, about the size of an American football field, orbits the Earth about once every 90 minutes, and has been continuously occupied by astronauts since November 2000.
The space station was originally intended to operate for just 15 years, but NASA said in a report that “there is high confidence that ISS life can be further extended through 2030”, though some analyses of its viability are still being conducted.
Once out of orbit, in January 2031, the space station will make a dramatic descent before splash-landing in Point Nemo, which is about 2,700 km from any land and has become known as the space cemetery — a final resting place for decommissioned space stations, old satellites and other human space debris.