Can Russia Really Build Its Own Space Station by 2028 After Falling Behind in the Space Race

The Russian State Space Corporation "Roscosmos" stated that the decision to leave The International Space Station program after 2024 had already been made. Now Russia needs a new space station for its cosmonauts to call home.
space station

According to Jess Thomson, writing for newsweek.com, Russia’s announcement to withdraw from the International Space Station (ISS) program is perceived as a retaliation for the sanctions imposed on it for invading Ukraine.

The critical thing to remember is that the ISS was due to be disbanded anyway in 2024. It is the US that has planned to extend the ISS mission until 2030. Nothing that Russia has stated recently in the press indicates that Russia will default on its commitment to service the ISS up to 2024. The departing chief of Roscosmos has cheekily suggested that NASA might need to rely on broomsticks rather than Russian rockets to get their astronauts there.

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International Space Station after undocking by NASA

The language used by Russia to communicate their intention as to whether they will remain a partner in the ISS project after 2024 seems to be either lost in translation or deliberately vague. 

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Journalists are still trying to make sense of the director general of Roscosmos, Yuri Borisov’s press statement that Russia plans to withdraw from the ISS. Why do analysts have a hard time believing Russia means what it says?

The executive director for Roscosmos tries to bring clarity to the situation

Sergei Krikalev is a Roscosmos executive director of human space flight programs.

During a NASA live briefing on August 4, Krikalev stated that Borisov’s statement was “lost in translation” and that “the statement actually said that Russia will not withdraw from the program until after 2024.

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The rollout of Proton M rocket with MLM U Nauka
Russian Proton-M rocket by atlinegrey under CC BY-SA 4.0

This means that there will be no changes until the end of 2024. And after 2024, this could mean 2025, 2028, or 2030, with a specific concrete decision about program termination based on the technical condition of the station and the assessment of all partners.

Squabbles between states escalate to squabbles in space

According to Thomson, cooperation suffers with the International Space Station project whenever the international community condemns Russia’s military actions. For example, in response to US sanctions imposed following the Crimean invasion in 2014, Russia stated that NASA would not be permitted on the ISS by 2020.

Despite occasional tensions, Russia and the United States have worked together on the ISS since the 1990s.

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Krikalev’s recent press release representing Russia’s intentions and the ISS is more moderate than the departing Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin. Russia hiring Yuri Borisov, Krikalev’s new boss, may set a new tone in international communications about space.

Can we expect more straightforward language from Russia in the future, more maturity, and less antagonistic remarks about trampolines and broomsticks?

Does Russia’s new space station plan send a clear message of withdrawal from the ISS?

In the aftermath of Russia’s announced plan to withdraw from the International Space Station, Roscosmos perhaps sends no clearer message of its intention to eventually withdraw from the ISS than announcing plans to build a new space station. The discussion of what ‘eventually’ means is a moot point as the ISS will most likely be crashed into the sea after 2030.

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According to state-affiliated news agency Tass, a model of a Russian orbital station was presented at the Army-2022 forum on Monday. The model included multiple research modules, a service platform, and a docked prospective Oryol spacecraft.

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Oryol spacecraft, Public domain

Following Borisov’s announcement in July, Roscosmos shared a blueprint for its planned Russian space station on social media. Nonetheless, the Army-2022 forum marks the first time a physical mock-up has been shown.

The orbital space station is an important development for Russia, as it will allow them to continue their space exploration. The research modules will allow them to conduct research in various fields, and the service platform will enable them to support the research modules. The docked Oryol spacecraft will allow them to conduct experiments in space.

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Experts are still unsure of what this means for the ISS

While the plans for this station have been revealed, whether or not it will be built remains to be seen.

Dr. Leroy Chiao, a former International Space Station commander and retired US astronaut, believes this is Russian posturing, as they do not have the funds to build their own station. This could be a way to show the world that they are capable of space exploration, or it could be a way to get funding from other countries.

The question still remains of what will happen to the ISS after Russia leaves it. This is a question that has been asked many times recently.

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It is possible that other countries will continue to use the ISS or that another country will replace Russia’s role on the ISS, Musk, CEO of SpaceX, has already offered. If Russia does leave the ISS and build its own station, the ISS will have to adapt to life without Roscosmos.

Russia chose to use its Army-2022 forum to unveil its plans, perhaps sends a clear message that space and military activities continue to be interrelated and that Russia intends to establish itself as a military power in space.