Russia is to pull out of the International Space Station, ending 23 years of international co-operation in space.
Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin has announced that a timetable for completion of the ISS project will soon be submitted to the Russia’s leadership.
The announcement, prompted by international sanctions over the war in Ukraine, is a major blow for the future of space exploration.
The space station needs constant maintenance to maintain a stable orbit, and without Russia’s contribution could have to be decommissioned far sooner than originally planned.
Rogozin said: ‘Sanctions from the US, Canada, the European Union and Japan are aimed at blocking financial, economic and production activities of our high-tech enterprises.
‘The purpose of the sanctions is to kill the Russian economy, plunge our people into despair and hunger, and bring our country to its knees. It is clear that they will not be able to do this, but the intentions are clear.
‘That is why I believe that the restoration of normal relations between partners in the International Space Station and other joint projects is possible only with the complete and unconditional lifting of illegal sanctions.
‘Specific proposals of Roscosmos on the timing of the completion of cooperation within the framework of he ISS with the space agencies of the United States, Canada, the European Union and Japan will be reported to the leadership of our country in the near future.’
When Russian cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveyev and Sergey Korsakov arrived on the ISS earlier this month, they were wearing yellow-and-blue coveralls in what was seen as a gesture of solidarity with Ukraine.
The first ISS component was launched in 1998, and the first long-term residents arrived two years later. NASA’s Mark Vande Hei holds the record for the longest stay on the station, spending 355 days in orbit, breaking the previous record by 15 days.
The space station’s newest module, Nauka, was fitted in 2021, a little over ten years after the previous major addition,
Several major new Russian elements were scheduled for launch this year, but have already been scrapped due to worsening international tensions.
The end of the ISS was always likely to draw the era of international co-operation in space to a close.
Future orbital stations, at least from the West, are likely to be built and operated by commercial enterprises such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Amazon boss Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin company.
Former NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said: “given our current budget constraints, if we want to go to the moon and we want to go to Mars, we need to commercialise low Earth orbit and go on to the next step.”
To stay up to date with all the latest news, make sure you sign up to one of our newsletters here.