The departure of Russia from the International Space Station (ISS) is no longer imminent, as the Kremlin will remains on board until 2028. Last year, shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, officials from Roscosmos stated that they would leave the ISS partnership after 2024. The project also involved building their own outpost in low Earth orbit.
The vague abandonment date of the project hinted at what happened: Russia will remains on board the ISS for a few more years. And that’s exactly what will happen, “Russia has confirmed that it will support the station’s ongoing operations until 2028” NASA officials wrote in an update (ref.).
The other major partners of the ISS, the space agencies of Europe, Canada, and Japan, have committed to staying until 2030. Together with NASA, these agencies will keep the orbiting laboratory running until the planned end of its operational life. The ISS partners began building the orbiting laboratory in 1998, and it has been continuously occupied by rotating crews of astronauts since November 2000.
During this time, 266 people from 20 different countries have visited the ISS and conducted over 3,300 experiments in its unique microgravity conditions. “Now, in its third decade of operation, the station is in the decade where it can maximize scientific return. Results are coming, new benefits are materializing, and innovative research is building on previous work“.
The Future Orbital Station
Although the ISS still contains a significant amount of life, NASA is already preparing to pass the torch in low Earth orbit (LEO). The agency is funding the development of multiple private space station concepts, with the hope that at least one of them will be active and functional before the ISS meets its fiery end upon reentry into Earth’s atmosphere.
A sustained crewed presence in LEO in the long term is the key to humanity’s quest to extend its footprint on the Moon and Mars. Commercial LEO outposts will not only allow us to continue learning how zero gravity affects the body but also contribute to stimulating an orbital economy that can drive expansion into deep space.