Russia's cooperation with China on upcoming space station looks promising despite decision to build its own: experts
Published: Apr 20, 2021 01:21 AM
A file photo of the International Space Station.

A file photo of the International Space Station. Photo: Xinhua

Russia will withdraw from the International Space Station (ISS) after reaching its planned lifespan in 2024 and is working on a new station to replace it, Russian media reported on Sunday. 

Chinese observers said that Russia's decision to build its own space station is consistent with its self-reliant principle of developing the aerospace industry but it will not overlook the option to cooperate on China's upcoming space station, as the craft might be the only operational station in orbit that will be open to foreign partners following the retirement of the ISS.

Russia announced on Sunday that it will end its participation in the ISS project after the current agreement expires in 2024, according to the Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Yuri Borisov. 

He said that the ISS's "condition leaves much to be desired" as a number of technical malfunctions have been mounting, Russian media outlet RT reported on Sunday.

Russian cosmonauts have struggled to fix air leaks over recent years, RT reported, due to cracks appearing in some of the modules in the ISS. The station's first module was launched in 1998 and its lifespan was twice extended, first from 2015 to 2020 and later to 2024. 

Vladimir Solovyev, a senior official working on the development of Russia's module of the ISS, said that several elements of the station had been damaged beyond replacement. "After 2025, we predict an avalanche-like failure of numerous elements onboard the ISS," he told the Russian Academy of Sciences, according to local media reports.

The replacement, called Russia Orbital Space Station, or ROSS, will consist of three to seven modules. Solovyev announced last October that it is expected to include a core module, a production module, a logistics cabin, a platform cabin for assembling, launching and repairing, and a commercial cabin that can accommodate four space tourists. 

Chinese space experts said that Russia's decision to build its own space station is consistent with its tradition in the aerospace industry and pointed to the country's technical capability as an advanced aerospace pioneer to develop the craft. 

However, Wang Ya'nan, Chief Editor of the Aerospace Knowledge magazine, voiced concerns for the project funding, as "Russia has already rolled out ambitious plans in the next few years to carry out lunar exploration and Mars missions," he told the Global Times. 

Observers added that while Moscow has decided to do it alone, it has not shut the door for future cooperation on China's upcoming space station that is expected to be operational by 2022. 

"There will be a gap for participants on the ISS after its expiration in 2024 and they will seek a new place to send astronauts and projects to. China's space station by that time may be the only one to be operational in orbit and China has shown an open attitude that welcomes the boarding of foreign partners," Wang noted. 

In June 2019, the China Manned Space Engineering Office selected the first batch of scientific experiments to be brought onboard China's space station. Projects from 17 countries were approved, including Russia, Belgium, Kenya, Japan, and Saudi Arabia.

Despite Moscow's decision to go ahead alone, Roscosmos has also restated its commitment to welcome international cooperation. In March, it signed a lunar exploration deal with China to jointly build a lunar research station.