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After Russian withdrawal, what next for International Space Station?

The International Space Station was a symbol of post-Cold War peace and cooperation, and the Russian announcement of withdrawal after 2024 signifies the reversal of that cooperation

Russia | International Space Station | Cold War

BS Web Team 

International Space Station
International Space Station

Newly appointed Russian Space Agency ROSCOSMOS chief Yuri Borisov said Tuesday that the country has decided to withdraw from the Space Station (ISS) after 2024. "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 Yuri Borisov told Putin in comments released by the Kremlin. However, said it had not yet received official notice of Russia's intention to withdraw from the programme.

This announcement came when is ranged against Europe and the US over its invasion of Ukraine.

The ISS is the largest modular space station, currently in low earth orbit and is regularly visible to the naked eye. It is the finest example of collaboration in space research. It is a multinational collaborative project involving five participating space agencies- of the United States, ROSCOSMOS of Russia, of Japan, ESA of Europe, and CSA of Canada.

Evolution of ISS

The ISS is the ninth and longest inhabited space station by humans. Astronauts conduct experiments on earth science, biology, biotechnology, astronomy, microgravity, meteorology, and physics in a ‘gravityless’ environment. The Space Station flies above Earth at an average altitude of 248 miles (400 kilometres). It circles the globe every 90 minutes at a speed of about 17,500 mph (28,000 km/h). Astronauts working and living on the Station experience 16 sunrise and sunsets each day.

Originally called Freedom in the 1980s by U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who authorised to build it within ten years as a counter to the Soviet Salyut and Mir space stations. It was redesigned in the 1990s to reduce costs and expand involvement, at which time it was renamed. In 1993 the United States and agreed to merge their separate space station plans into a single facility, integrating their respective modules and incorporating contributions from the ESA, CSA and .

ISS weighs almost 400 tonnes and covers an area as big as a football pitch. It was impossible to build the Space Station on Earth and launch it into space in one go – for there was no rocket big or powerful enough to do it. To get around this problem, the space station was taken into space piece-by-piece and gradually built in orbit, approximately 400 km above the Earth's surface. This assembly required more than 40 missions, with the first launch being the Russian control module Zarya on November 20, 1998. In mid-2000, the Russian-built module Zveda- a habitat and control centre- was added. On November 2 that year, the ISS received its first resident crew, comprising Russian cosmonauts Sergey Krikalev and Yuri Gidzenko and American astronaut William Shepherd, who flew up in a Soyuz spacecraft. The ISS has been continuously inhabited since then.

Russian role in ISS

The station is divided into two sections: the Russian Orbital Segment (ROS), operated by Russia, and the United States Orbital Segment (USOS), run by the United States and other countries. The Russian segment includes controlling the space station’s propulsion control systems, which provide regular boosts that keep the ISS upright and prevent the station from falling out of orbit. Also, the countries used Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft to take astronauts to the station after the breakup of the space shuttle orbiter - Columbia in 2003.

However, this fine example of cooperation between the US and had come under fire in the last few years. “There has been a sense that the ISS is starting to become a bargaining chip of some sort in relations between the US and Russia”, says Wendy Whitman Cobb, a professor at the US Air Force’s School of Advanced Air and Space Studies. Also, after SpaceX had started transporting NASA astronauts to the space station in 2020, the US no longer needed to depend upon Russians.

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First Published: Wed, July 27 2022. 15:11 IST