In yet another sign of Russia distancing itself from the West, Moscow has said it will withdraw from the International Space Station.
But it won’t be ditching the space station immediately – Russia says it will remain a full partner of the ISS until “after 2024”.
The newly-appointed chief of Moscow’s space agency told President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday: “Of course, we will fulfil all our obligations to our partners, but the decision to leave this station after 2024 has been made,” Roscosmos chief Yury Borisov told Putin in comments released by the Kremlin.
Russian space officials have previously mentioned a plan to leave the International Space Station (ISS) in 2024 but this is the first time it’s been officially confirmed by the head of Roscosmos.
Russia has said that it will build its own space station orbiting Earth instead.
Mr Borisov said a new space program was Roscosmos’ top priority.
“Good,” Putin replied in comments released by the Kremlin.
Until now space exploration was one of the few areas where co-operation between Russia and the United States and its allies had not been wrecked by tensions over Ukraine and elsewhere.
The ISS has operated since 1998 and as well as the US and Russia it also includes as partners the European Union (plus the UK, Norway and Switzerland), Japan and Canada.
The space station is divide into two segments. One is operated by Russia, and the other larger segment is operated by NASA and the other partner space agencies.
There is always at least one US crew member and one Russian crew member on board with crew members from other nations rotating in and out.
The deal to keep Russia as part of the ISS until at least 2024 means astronauts will be able to fly up to the station in Russian rockets while cosmonauts will be able to do the same on-board Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket later this year.
Russians on-board the ISS have become embroiled in the Ukraine conflict.
In February, new Russia crew members Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveyev and Sergey Korsakov entered the ISS wearing yellow jump suits with a blue stripe which some interpreted as a subtle sign of support for Ukraine given blue and yellow are the country’s nation colours.
But in July, the trio were seen in photographs on-board the ISS holding aloft the flags of the self-proclaimed pro-Russian states of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics in eastern Ukraine.
Russia’s plan to build own space station
Roscosmos’ Mr Borisov said the space industry was in a “difficult situation”. He said he would seek “to raise the bar, and first of all, to provide the Russian economy with the necessary space services”, pointing to navigation, communication, and data transmission, among other things.
Sending the first man into space in 1961 and launching the first satellite four years earlier are among key accomplishments of the Soviet space program and remain a major source of national pride in Russia.
Russia, like the US, previously launched their won independent manned space stations.
But experts say the Russian space agency remains a shadow of its former self and has in recent years suffered a series of setbacks including corruption scandals and the loss of a number of satellites and other spacecraft.
Mr Borisov, a former deputy prime minister with a military background, has replaced Dmitry Rogozin, a firebrand nationalist politician known for his bombastic statements and eccentric behaviour
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