NASA reportedly had contingency plans for Russia’s ISS exit last year

Yuri Borisov, the newly appointed head of Roscosmos, recently announced that Russia will withdraw from the International Space Station after 2024. NASA and the Russian Space Agency are working together to keep the station running, and the latter’s exit would transform ISS operations enormously. Corresponding ReutersHowever, given the rising tensions between Russia and the US, NASA was preparing for such a possibility well before Borisov’s announcement – and even before the invasion of Ukraine began.

ReutersSources say NASA and the White House drew up contingency plans for the ISS late last year. Those plans include ways to pull astronauts off the station if Russia abruptly leaves and ways to keep the ISS running without Russian hardware. While the US module keeps the station balanced and provides the electricity needed to run it with its solar arrays, the Roscosmos module has the thrusters needed to keep the flying laboratory in orbit. And that’s why NASA’s contingency plans reportedly include exploring ways to decommission the station years ahead of schedule.

Apparently, NASA has been working for the past few weeks to create a formal request for contractors to find ways to exit the space station. However, the agency has involved private space companies in its contingency planning, hoping to keep the ISS in orbit without Russia. The sources said Boeing has already formed a team of engineers to figure out how to pilot the ISS without the Russian engines. SpaceX chief Elon Musk had also previously expressed interest in helping when former Roscosmos director Dmitry Rogozin imposed Western sanctions on his country, asking who would “save the ISS from uncontrolled deorbiting” if the West cooperated blocked with Russia.

As early as June, Northrop Grumman was successfully able to adjust the station’s orbit for future operations with its Cygnus capsule, which was then docked to the ISS. ReutersSources said SpaceX is also exploring the possibility of using its spacecraft to boost the station’s orbit.

Borisov said Russia has not yet set a date for its exit but will honor its commitments and give partners a year’s notice before exiting. Roscosmos and NASA will most likely continue to work closely together until Russia pulls out of the program – they even recently agreed to swap seats on Crew Dragon and Soyuz flights to the ISS.

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