Having committed to using the International Space Station until it closes in 2024, the Independent reports that Russia has also confirmed its plans to build its own, national space station, recycling parts of the discontinued vessel.
The Russian space agency, Roscosmos, plans to retrieve the three Russian modules from the closed ISS, and use them to create a Russian orbital base that will allow the agency to better develop its space exploration capabilities. The eventual goal is to land Russian cosmonauts on the moon — something that has never before been achieved.
Russian commitment to the funding of the International Space Station beyond 2020 is significant because it is the first of the 15 involved nations to provide such an assurance. However, the latest announcement also makes Russia the first nation to confirm a date by which it will exit the international collaboration — something that has caused concern in some quarters, as president of the Royal Astronomical Society, Martin Barstow, outlined to the Guardian.
“The International Space Station was a focus for everybody and, although its life is going to be extended, it’s still going to be limited. The collaborative part of that project may go, and it would be bad if it were lost. The way to avoid fighting is to work together on international, significant projects. In the next 10 years, things could change quite drastically.”
International collaboration continues in other areas of space exploration, however, including the partnership between the European Space Agency and Russia for the Exomars Mars rover mission that is planned for 2018. The Moscow Times reports a statement from the head of the Scientific and Technical Council of Roscosmos, Yury Koptev, which indicates that the details have yet to be officially sanctioned.
“Today we determined that the main aim [for the program] is to use the ISS to develop our lunar program in low Earth orbit, [before moving on to] deep space. Detailed studies and final decisions will be made after hearing from the heads of space industry enterprises at subsequent meetings of the STC [Scientific and Technical Council].”
Though it was the United States that won the race to land citizens on the lunar surface, Russia began its space program as pioneers, putting the first human into orbit in 1961. The success of subsequent U.S. space missions contributed to the cancellation of Russia’s moon plans, making this recent announcement a significant revival of long-term Russian astronomical ambition. Russian space agency Roscosmos is currently in transition, however, being in the process of becoming a state-owned corporation. In addition, the plummeting value of the ruble is reportedly causing plans and budgets to be reconsidered and re-drafted to ensure the adequate accommodation of the space exploration plans of Russia.