Russia’s Changing Story on ISS and its New Space Station

The International Space Station, photographed by ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli following the undocking of his Soyuz-TMA on 23 May 2011. (Credit: ESA/NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Well, this is interesting. And by interest, I mean what cynics had been predicting all along.

In the space of a couple of weeks, Russia’s plan for the future of the International Space Station (ISS) shifted from full withdrawal in 2025, to gradual withdrawal and the launch of a new Russian-only station beginning in 2025, to we’re fine with extending ISS to 2028 and we’ll start launching our new station then.

Since the early withdrawal was predicated on ISS suffering a cascading series of failures starting in 2025, it seems like the station is suddenly in much better shape than it appeared only weeks ago. Or maybe Roscosmos got assurances (read: money) from NASA to provide help in dealing with anticipated failures in the Russian segment of the station. Or perhaps Russia extra some other consideration from the U.S. space agency. Or a reduction in sanctions.

Whatever the case, Russia’s latest plan to end all plans for ISS was laid out on Friday by Vladimir Soloviev, flight director of the Russian segment of the International Space Station, first deputy general designer for flight operation, testing of rocket and space complexes and systems of the Energia Rocket and Space Corporation, which is part of the Roscosmos State Corporation.

Wow. Just try to get that on a business card. Amirite?

Russia’s plan is to delay launch of the NEM-1 module originally scheduled to launch to ISS in 2022 by six years to 2028. A modified NEM-1 will instead form the core of the new Russian Orbital Space Station (ROSS).

NEM-1 will be launched aboard an Angara-A5 rocket from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East. The original plan was to launch the module to ISS aboard a Proton M booster from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The 2028 launch is dependent on the Angara A5 pad being ready in time. Construction and use of Vostochny has been delayed by years by graft and cost overruns, including a former construction official arrested in Minsk driving a diamond-encrusted Mercedes.

Not bad work if you can get it. And avoid the FSB, which this guy clearly couldn’t. I mean, really? A diamond encrusted Mercedes? Did he think nobody would notice? Or are there just dozens of wealthy crooks in Belarus and Russia driving around in diamond encrusted luxury automobiles?

In any event, the full ROSS station — set to include up to seven modules — won’t be completed until 2035. So said Alexander Bloshenko, Roscosmos executive director for advanced programs and science, on Friday.

It looks like ISS is safe until 2028. Unless, of course, Russia changes its mind again.