Russia has told NASA that the ISS withdrawal is less imminent than previously reported

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WASHINGTON – Russian space officials have informed their American counterparts that Moscow would like to fly its cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) until its own orbital base is built and operational, a senior NASA official told Reuters on Wednesday.

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Along with remarks from a senior Russian space official released on Wednesday, the latest indications suggest that Russia is still at least six years away from ending more than two decades of orbital cooperation with the United States.

A split in the ISS program appeared closer on Tuesday when Yuri Borisov, the newly appointed CEO of Russia’s Roscosmos space agency, surprised NASA by announcing that Moscow intends to withdraw from its partnership with the space station “after 2024.”

Kathy Lueders, NASA’s chief of space operations, said in an interview that Russian officials told the U.S. space agency later Tuesday that Roscosmos wished to remain in the partnership as Russia works to bring its planned orbital base, called ROSS, into operation.

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“We are not getting any indication at any working level that anything has changed,” Lueders told Reuters on Wednesday, ing that NASA’s relationship with Roskosmos remains “business as usual.”

The space station, a science laboratory the size of a football field and orbiting about 400 km above Earth, has been continuously occupied for more than two decades by a US-Russia-led partnership that also includes Canada, Japan and 11 European countries.

It offers one of the last vestiges of cooperation between the United States and Russia, though its fate is in doubt after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, straining bilateral relations on multiple fronts as the Biden administration imposed economic sanctions on Moscow.

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The conflict in Ukraine has also caused tension between Roskosmos and the European Space Agency (ESA).

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A formal agreement to extend Russia’s participation in the ISS beyond 2024 has not yet been reached. NASA, Roskosmos, ESA and other station partners plan to discuss the prospect of extending each other’s presence at the lab until 2030 during a regular meeting Friday of the board that oversees the station’s management, Lueders said.

On Wednesday, Roscosmos published an interview on its website with Vladimir Solovyov, the flight director of the Russian segment of the space station, according to which Russia must remain on the station until ROSS is operational.

Solovyov said he expected ROSS to be fully assembled in orbit sometime in 2028.

“Of course, we have to continue operating the ISS until we create a more or less tangible backlog for ROSS,” Solovjov said. “We have to take into account that if we stop manned flights for several years, then it will be very difficult to restore what has been achieved.”

The American and Russian parts of the space station were deliberately built to be intertwined and technically interdependent, so any sudden end to Russian cooperation aboard the ISS could seriously disrupt the centerpiece of NASA’s human spaceflight program.

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