Nelson at NAC meeting
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said at a March 1 meeting of the NASA Advisory Council that it was continuing normal operations of the space station even as his Russian counterpart threatened to withdraw from the partnership. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

WASHINGTON — The head of Roscosmos has renewed threats to terminate Russian participation in the International Space Station even as NASA says operations on the station remain normal.

Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos, posted a link on his Twitter account March 2 to a video by Russian state-controlled broadcaster Russia Today. In the video, Rogozin suggested he would reconsider cooperation on the ISS if the United States maintains sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

“Americans are pragmatic people. They want to maintain cooperation with Russia within the International Space Station despite the numerous sanctions,” Rogozin said through a translator. “Why? Because it is impossible to manage the space station without us. We’re responsible for its navigation and fuel delivery. I’m not talking about the interdependence of all control systems.”

“Therefore, we will closely monitor the actions of our American partners and, if they continue to be hostile, we will return to the question of the existence of the International Space Station,” he said. “I would not like such a scenario because I expect that the Americans will cool down.”

In a separate interview with the Russian news service TASS, Rogozin offered similar comments, but suggested he was referring to the future of the ISS after 2024, rather than any near-term suspension of cooperation. “How will they cope with this ISS then? I don’t know,” he said in a translation of the Russian-language article.

In contrast to Rogozin’s rhetoric, his NASA counterpart has emphasized continued cooperation with Russia on the station. “Despite the challenges here on Earth, and they are substantial, NASA is committed to the seven astronauts and cosmonauts onboard the International Space Station,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in remarks at a March 1 meeting of the NASA Advisory Council.

“NASA continues the working relationship with all our international partners to ensure their safety and the ongoing safe operations of the ISS,” he said. Those are the only public comments Nelson has made about the ISS partnership since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine Feb. 24.

Other agency officials have emphasized ongoing normal operations of the station, even while doing some planning if that changes. “We always look for how we get more operational flexibility,” Kathy Lueders, NASA associate administrator for space operations, said at a Feb. 28 briefing about the upcoming Ax-1 commercial mission to the station. “Our cargo providers are looking at how do we add different capabilities.”

One example she cited was Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft. The NG-17 Cygnus spacecraft that arrived at the station Feb. 21 will conduct a test in April of its ability to reboost the station with its thrusters, a service that today is only provided by Russian Progress cargo spacecraft and the Russian segment of the station itself. She said SpaceX may provide unspecified “additional capability” as well.

“We’ve been looking at that more from an operational flexibility perspective,” she said, acknowledging that there are no plans for NASA and other Western ISS partners to operate the station without Russia.

One NASA adviser recommends that NASA work on contingency plans. “When I talk to my friends that are still at work at the ISS control center, they are very much operating normally, and we certainly hope that stays the same,” said Wayne Hale, a former shuttle flight director and shuttle program manager who currently serves on the NASA Advisory Council, at the council’s March 1 meeting.

“But this old flight director feels that the situation indicates that NASA should consider assembling a tiger team to prepare contingency plans in case that situation changes,” he added. “Hopefully it doesn’t come to pass, but we’ve always prepared for contingencies.”

Another council member expressed a hope for continued cooperation with Russia on the ISS. “Now is the time to make a huge deal about our excitement about space and also, if it lasts — and I do appreciate the caution — our collaboration with Russia on the space station,” said Jane Harman, a former member of Congress. “It could have a future that might be a good thing.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...