ISS: Former NASA astronaut responds to Russian threats
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Yesterday, the Director General of Russian space agency Roscosmos Yuri Borisov announced that Moscow would withdraw from the ISS after 2024. In a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he added that Russia would leave its partnership with NASA onboard the station after fulfilling all of its obligations to its partners.
He also noted that the space agency, which rivalled NASA during the space race in the 1960s and 70s, would now divert its attention towards developing a new Russian Orbital Space Station.
This news has sparked fears among experts as the ISS needs Russian modules to stay in orbit, without which it could spin out of control and even crash into Earth.
While NASA and other partners like the ESA have planned to operate the orbital station until 2024, Wendy Whitman Cobb, Professor of Strategy and Security Studies at Air University warned that Russia’s withdrawal from the ISS could mean the “early demise of the orbital lab.”
She said: “While it remains unclear whether the Russians will follow through with this announcement, it does add significant stress to the operation of the most successful international cooperation in space ever.”
Russian-made modules constitute a critical part of the 400-tonne space station, as Roscosmos operates six of the 17 modules of the ISS – including Zvezda, which houses the main engine system.
Professor Cobb warned that: “This engine is vital to the station’s ability to remain in orbit and also to how it moves out of the way of dangerous space debris.
“Under the ISS agreements, Russia retains full control and legal authority over its modules.”
If Putin decided to decouple these two modules, some experts have warned that the ISS would only survive for a short period of time before it enters Earth’s atmosphere.
She continued: “Given that the Russian modules are necessary to station operations, it’s uncertain whether the station would be able to operate without them.
“It’s also unclear whether it would be possible to separate the Russian modules from the rest of the ISS, as the entire station was designed to be interconnected.
“Depending on how and when Russia decides to pull out of the station, partner countries will have to make tough choices about whether to deorbit the ISS altogether or find creative solutions to keep it in the sky.”
This announcement is a culmination of months of hostilities between NASA and Roscosmos, with the former space chief Dmitry Rogozin even threatening to crash the ISS into Earth as a response to Western sanctions on Russia.
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In a series of tweets, he said: “If you block cooperation with us, who will save the ISS from an uncontrolled deorbit and fall into the United States or Europe?
“There is also the option of dropping the 500-ton structure to India and China.
“Do you want to threaten them with such a prospect?
“The ISS does not fly over Russia, so all the risks are yours. Are you ready for them?”
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