Roscosmos also considered bringing down the Soyuz currently docked with the ISS earlier than expected and replace it with another Soyuz, according to a russian newspaper. This could be a sign of technical issues behind the scenes.
For nine years after the last space shuttle flightNASA depended on Russia to ferry astronauts to the ISS—Soyuz offered the only journey to space. But in 2020, NASA started using SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. Soon, Boeing will also start offering rides. NASA still relies on Russia for some cargo deliveries and some astronaut flights, but that could soon change, McClintock says. “I think it’s likely — and it would be prudent — that NASA would conduct a similar analysis to see if they can maintain astronaut resupply and transfers to the station without relying on the Russians,” he says.
NASA could already be moving in this direction; on March 2 the agency extended freight contracts with SpaceX, Northrop Grumman and Sierra Space. This development will add to Russia’s economic difficulties by reducing its already limited space revenues. Roscosmos has no commercial space program to support or fall back on.
For crewed launches, Russia has long relied on its Baikonur spaceport in neighboring Kazakhstan. But the nation has charged an expensive annual feeand in March Kazakhstan seized Russian spaceport assets, apparently due to the debt of Roscosmos. Russia has sought to reduce its dependence on Baikonur by building a new spaceport, the Vostochny Cosmodrome in eastern Russia near the Chinese border, but the project has been bogged down by construction problems, delays and corruption scandals.
Beyond launch problems and coolant leaks, Russia’s civilian space program faces another problem: the ISS. For the past quarter century, the station has provided a vital link between US and Russian space programs, but that is ending, with plans to remove the giant structure altogether. NASA invests in the next generation commercial space stationswith modules that should arrive in orbit as soon as 2030. Russia has no role in these commercial concepts, nor in the development of China. Tiangong New Station.
Last July, Yuri Borisov, the head of Roscosmos, claimed that Russia would withdraw from the ISS – thus ending the station’s lifespan – in 2028, when Russia will launch its own space station. And in February, the state news agency TASS confirmed that Russia plans to support the ISS until 2028, a schedule that depends on the deployment of a “new Russian orbital station”.
Pavel Luzin, senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, a think tank focused on China, Russia and Eurasia, is skeptical; he is not aware of any new models of space stations, crewed spacecraft or launch vehicles in the works. It would be optimistic if Russia even launched a new station in the 2030s, he adds. “Russia is not the Soviet Union,” says Luzin, who is also a visiting scholar at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. “Russia will be able to manufacture large vehicles and Soyuz spacecraft. Russia will be able to launch satellites. But it will not be an advanced space power. It will not step beyond low Earth orbit.