Putin Seeds Confusion about Russia’s ISS Commitment

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Russian President Vladimir Putin said April 16 that Russia would develop its own space station by 2023, raising questions about its future role on the International Space Station just weeks after other officials said Russia would remain committed to it through 2024.

“By 2023 we are going to create our own national orbital station in orbit,” Putin said during a televised question-and-answer session with the Russian public. “We will definitely bring this project to fruition, and, no doubt, it will be under our control.”

Putin indicated that the proposed station would be in a higher inclination than the ISS, whose 51.6-degree orbit passes over only part of Russian territory. “From the national station, of course, we will be able to see the whole territory of our vast country,” he said.

Putin’s comments come less than three weeks after Igor Komarov, head of the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, said he was committed to continuing ISS operations through 2024, as the U.S. has sought. Komarov, at a March 28 briefing, said NASA and Roscosmos had also agreed to develop a space station to replace the ISS. NASA denied that, saying the two agencies only supported extending ISS operations through 2024 and would discuss future potential cooperative ventures.

“He made a very encouraging announcement that, contrary to the rhetoric we heard from the Russians, they were committed to the International Space Station through 2024,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said of Komarov during an April 16 Senate hearing on NASA’s budget.

Putin’s comments came a day after Roscosmos announced it was planning for a budget of 2 trillion rubles ($38 billion) for the next decade, a decrease of 40 percent from earlier projections. The statement about that budget made no mention of an orbital station, and Yuri Koptev, head of Roscosmos’ Scientific and Technical Council, described the requested funding as “the absolute minimum” needed to carry out its plans.