Russia has given a two-year’s notice to the United States and allies that it wants space.
What space? Moscow has announced it will be leaving the International Space Station (ISS) after 2024. The ISS, which has been jointly run by Russia, the U.S, Europe, Japan, and Canada since its launch in 1998, has been a symbol of post-Cold War cooperation between the two rival superpowers – Russia and the U.S. For more than two decades, the ISS has enabled scientists to conduct research into various phenomena, including cosmic particles and black holes, and also support responses to natural disasters on Earth. Russia has now had enough.
Is this about Ukraine?
Well, the timing cannot be ignored, but it’s not just about Ukraine. Moscow has been expressing displeasure over the running of the ISS for a while now. Moscow has complained about the sidelining of Russia in rockets contracts in recent years, as more contracts have been awarded to US-based SpaceX, against Russian Soyuz rockets. This friction has also been complicated by frosty relations between the allies and Russia. Moscow had previously threatened to stop cooperating with the ISS if Western countries retained sanctions imposed because of the Ukraine war. Russia has now shown that it was not bluffing.
How will this affect the ISS?
It is not clear, yet, how the ISS will proceed. In response to complaints from Russia, it was hoped that the ISS would run on the current conditions until at least 2030, as it significantly relies on Russia’s input. Russia manages the station’s propulsion, while the U.S handles the station’s power. In the midst of all these, NASA has already awarded contracts to 3 U.S companies to make commercial space stations of their own. China is also expediting work on building its own space station, which may have influenced Russia’s decision to also go solo – further widening the gulf between Moscow and Washington.