Russia debates staying on ISS past 2024 despite tensions

Russia is having internal discussions over continuing its participation in the International Space Station (ISS) beyond 2024, despite statements made earlier this summer that the country will pull out of the station program by the middle of the decade.

Sergei Krikalev, head of human space programs at Roscosmos, said Monday that the Russian space agency is in discussions to extend its “participation in [the] ISS program with our government and hope to have permission to continue next year.”

The about-face comes just a few months after Roscosmos head Yuri Borisov announced Russia’s plans to leave the station after 2024, and instead construct its own orbiting station. The ISS is operated in partnership between the space agencies of U.S., Russia, Canada, Japan and Europe. America has committed to operate the station through 2030.

However, Krikalev admitted that a new Russian station may not be ready by 2025. “We know that it’s not going to happen very [quickly], so probably we will keep flying [on the ISS] until we have any new infrastructure that will allow us to do continuous human presence on low Earth orbit,” he said.

He made his comments during a NASA media briefing on the Crew-5 mission, which is scheduled to take place on October 5. During that mission, SpaceX will launch a crew of four — including cosmonaut Anna Kikina — to the ISS. It marks the first time a cosmonaut will fly on a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, part of a recent astronaut transportation exchange deal between the U.S. and Russia. American astronaut Francisco Rubio launched to the ISS aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft last month as part of the deal.

“This type of exchange will increase [the] robustness of our program and we will continue this practice to make our program more reliable,” Krikalev said.

While Russia and the U.S. have collaborated on the ISS for decades, tensions between the two countries have been mounting since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February. Despite this strain, NASA’s manager of the ISS program Joel Montalbano said during the media briefing that American staff are still in Russia working with Roscosmos at Mission Control Center Moscow and other locations. He added that NASA is in frequent contact with the American Embassy in Moscow and that he anticipates no impacts to the next Soyuz launch that will carry an American astronaut.