Lately the withdrawal of Russia from the ISS was at the center of discussions, especially after the announcement made by Yuri Borisovthe new director of the Russian space agency Roscosmos. Borisov had announced that Russia was going stop participating in the ISS project after the year 2024. Later, it became known that this withdrawal was in fact only going to take effect when Russia’s new space station was ready. Anyway, we now know that the NASA had already prepared for a possible withdrawal from Russia last year, long before Borisov’s announcement.
According to information obtained by Reuters, NASA and the White House would have established a contingency plan for the ISS towards the end of 2021. This plan contains, among other things, means to bring the astronauts back to Earth in the event that the Russians decide to leave the station abruptly. There are also ways to keep the station in operation without Russian equipment.
The ISS works thanks to the collaboration of the United States and Russia. The American modules allow the station to be in balance and produce electricity. As for the Russian modules, they are equipped with thrusters that keep the ISS in orbit.
A call to private companies
We know that NASA’s emergency plan includes a means of deorbit the ISS years ahead of schedule if Russia decided to leave. In recent weeks, it appears the US space agency has been working on a formal request to contractors asking them to find ways to de-orbit the station.
However, NASA has included private companies in the contingency plan hoping that some will be able to keep the ISS in orbit. Thus, we know that Boeing has already trained a group of engineers to find a way to control the space lab without Russia’s thrusters. There has also been SpaceX boss Elon Muskwho indicated that he would be happy to help keep the station in orbit after threats made by the former director of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin.
Recently, in June, the company Northrop Grumman managed to adjust the orbit of the ISS thanks to its capsule Cygnus which was moored at the station. This is a first step that could allow NASA to continue without the Russians.
No change for the moment
For the moment, there is no change regarding the operation of the International Space Station. Borisov said Russia has not yet decided on a definitive date. The Russians also undertake to honor their obligations with partners and have assured that they will give a year’s notice before leaving the station.
The United States and Russia have also agreed to continue to collaborate closely, in particular by exchanging places on board the vessels. Crew Dragon and Soyuz.