Is Russia Planning Early ISS Exit?

One of the biggest questions to be answered by the International Space Station doesn’t involve mice, plants or 3-d printers. Instead it regards the Station itself, its lifespan and ultimate disposition. Currently funded through 2020 with agreement on the part of all the International Partners; the U.S., Russia, ESA, Japan and Canada, what comes after point that is still anyone’s guess.

The U.S. wants to extend the station’s life to at least 2024, and possibly longer, while Japan and Europe are considerably more circumspect, with the latter seeming to harbor the greatest doubt. It is Russia however, which as in so many ways, is the wild card.

NASA has long assumed that whenever the end of service life comes, the entire facility will be de-orbited somewhere over the vast tracks of the Pacific Ocean. Russia on the the other hand, has long held different plans, suggesting as early as 2009 that whenever the partnership dissolved, it might decouple and recycle major elements of its own segment to be used as the starting point for a new, fully Russian station.

Yesterday, the Moscow Times, picking up a story first reported in the daily paper Kommersant, reported that Russia may by eyeing an even earlier exit, possibly beginning as soon as 2017.

“Although no official word from Russian space officials has yet been issued on an ISS extension, a senior source at the Central Research Institute of Machine Building (TsNIIMash) — the federal space agency’s think tank — told Kommersant on Monday that Russia will begin constructing a new space station to replace its segment of the ISS as early as 2017.

Referring to three modules currently intended to be attached to the ISS between 2017 and 2018, the source said: “The initial configuration [of the new Russian space station] will be constructed on the foundation of the Multipurpose Laboratory Module, a node module, and the OKA-T free-floating laboratory spacecraft.”

While Russian space experts quoted in the story are highly skeptical, the increasingly belligerent behavior exhibited by Russian President for Life Vladimir Putin makes envisioning such as scenario quite a bit more plausible. If, as it seems possible, Putin is privately committed to securing contiguous territory in Eastern Ukraine now held by pro-Russian rebels, then the International Space Station partnership, along with much more, is likely considered to be an acceptable casualty.

If the net result threw the U.S. space program into chaos, forcing NASA to choose between increasing its investment in ISS or abandoning it and the Commercial Crew program altogether in favor of a destination free SLS, Putin might even view the result as a strategic win.


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1 Comment on "Is Russia Planning Early ISS Exit?"

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  1. The future of the Commercial Crew industry is in private space stations. Not the ISS!

    One of the first missions for the SLS should be to deploy a large private Bigelow space habitat (Olympus BA-2100) at LEO dedicated for space tourism and other private commercial purposes. NASA could even rent it out on occasion for their own purposes. Small commercial launched microgravity space laboratories could be located near the large Bigelow space station where they could be routinely visited and serviced by individuals residing at Olympus using Flex Craft.

    The SLS could also be used to deploy a large SLS fuel tank derived habitat at LEO for NASA purposes such as testing large internal centrifuges to mitigate the deleterious effects of microgravity on the human body. Such a habitat would also be roomy enough for enhanced water shielding against cosmic radiation.

    The ISS needs to serve out its purpose by 2020 and then be allowed to pummel back into the Earth’s atmosphere to make way for the new age of lighter, larger and cheaper space stations.


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