Although the International Space Station (ISS) will officially be decommissioned in 2031, Nasa insiders have said the space lab could be destroyed sooner if Russia decides to pull out amid its invasion of Ukraine.
The ISS relies heavily on Moscow for key parts of its lab and to perform resupply, power generation and even to raise its altitude to prevent it crashing to Earth.
Although initially planned for a lifespan of 15 years, the ISS has already exceeded all expectations. Nasa’s original plan to decommission the station in 2031 will result in a controlled deorbit in the middle of the Pacific Ocean at a place called Point Nemo.
If Russia withdraws from the partnership, the other space station partners – the European, Japanese and Canadian space agencies – could keep it going until 2031.
However, space experts, including current and former Nasa officials, say it may not be worth the cost and effort.
“We would have to invest a lot of extra money to get there. The ISS was never meant to be broken,” said Brian Weeden, space researcher at the Secure World Foundation. Politics.
A former government official told the magazine on condition of anonymity that the ISS might “just have to speed up transition plans”.
“Will the Russians want to take some of their modules with them when they separate? Are they working with us to separate us? Do [the Russians] we ghost? We are in uncharted territory,” the former official said.
The head of Russia’s Roscosmos space agency previously said ISS partners depended on Russian rockets to launch satellites and ferry astronauts to the orbiting lab after the United States and several other Western allies imposed restrictions. sanctions in the country after the February 24 invasion.
US President Joe Biden said last week, following the announcement of a series of sanctions, that this decision “would degrade their aerospace industry, including their space program“.
Roscosmos director Dmitry Rogozin, reacting to Mr Biden’s comments, said on Twitter that Russia would “continue to manufacture” its own spacecraft.
“If you block cooperation with us, who will save the ISS from uncontrolled deorbiting and falling towards the United States or Europe? It is also possible to deposit a 500 ton structure in India and China. Do you want to threaten them with such a prospect? The ISS does not fly over Russia, so all the risk is yours. Are you ready for them? Mr. Rogozin added.
Although Nasa said it “continues to work with all of our international partners, including State Space Corporation Roscosmos, for the safety of ongoing ISS operations,” Rogozin warned Tuesday that the agency space “would reconsider its priorities” and focus on “independence”. in space instrumentation.
“Roscosmos currently has government authorization to operate the ISS only until 2024. The question of extending the agreement under current conditions arouses our skepticism,” the space agency told the news agency Russian public TASS.
If Russia’s involvement in the ISS were to end before then, SpaceX chief Elon Musk hinted that the Russian segment could then be replaced by the SpaceX Dragon to provide reboost and control capabilities. elevation.
Specialists, however, underline that if SpaceX Dragon has been ferrying astronauts to the station since 2020, it would have to modify its thrusters to maneuver the station’s altitude.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could be a major turning point in Russian-American space relations.
While the two countries worked together for several decades to advance post-Cold War space research despite geopolitical differences, it looks like this partnership could crumble.