On March 28, Russia seemingly announced joint plans with NASA for a future space station to replace the ISS. NASA, however, have not confirmed such plans.
There are conflicting reports from the Russian and US space agencies—Roscosmos and NASA—about the future of their bilateral space programs. The International Space Station (ISS) was originally to be mothballed in 2020 with Russia threatening in January to drop support for it by that date. However, recent statements from Igor Komarov, head of Roscosmos, suggest that not only will Russia continue funding to operate the station until 2024, he also hinted that there might be future plans to build a replacement with the USA saying:
Roscosmos together with NASA will work on the programme of a future orbital station…We agreed that the group of countries taking part in the ISS project will work on the future project of a new orbital station.
For their part, NASA have downplayed the rumour and say that, while they are pleased that Russia has committed to the project for four more years, there are no concrete plans beyond that time frame. Indeed in February NASA administrator William Gerstenmaier was quoted as saying: “What we’re hoping for is that the private sector picks that up”: indicating a desire to put orbital stations in the same bin as orbital flight as something for other companies (like SpaceX) to pick up.
Russia’s deputy PM Dmitry Rogozin also appeared cautious, remarking “The Russian government will study the results of the talks between Roscosmos and NASA. The decisions will be taken later”.
Roscosmos had finalised a plan in February for its activities up until 2030, announcing then its continued support for the ISS until 2024 as well as proposing a renewal of its lunar programme with manned missions to the Moon by 2030. Although they intended to use their components of the ISS to begin building a new Russian space station, there was no mention at the time of this being a collaborative project.
Despite the tenuous credibility of a new giant space complex, the news that the two countries are at least planning for future scientific cooperation is excellent news for the space industry (and science as a whole). With relations between Russia and the West at a low not seen since the Cold War, it’s somewhat reassuring to know there exists not only an ongoing commitment to keeping the ISS operational, but also plans to extend its lifetime.