The International Space Station as seen from a Crew Dragon spacecraft in 2021. Credit: NASA

WASHINGTON — The Russian government has agreed to continue participation in the International Space Station to at least 2028, the last partner to agree to an extension of the station’s operations.

NASA said April 27 that Russia had confirmed it will support the station through 2028. The other partners — NASA, the Canadian Space Agency, European Space Agency and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency — had previously agreed to keep the station going beyond 2024 to 2030.

Roscosmos announced April 25 that Yuri Borisov, head of the agency, had sent letters to the leaders of the other space agencies involved in ISS, informing that that the Russian government had agreed to an extension.

“The ISS program is the largest and most successful international project in the field of space, and I am glad that such a unique laboratory will continue its work and will contribute to the realization of the most daring ideas of mankind in space exploration,” he said in translated remarks published by Roscosmos on social media.

“The International Space Station is an incredible partnership with a common goal to advance science and exploration,” said Robyn Gatens, director of the ISS division at NASA Headquarters, in a NASA statement. “Extending our time aboard this amazing platform allows us to reap the benefits of more than two decades of experiments and technology demonstrations, as well as continue to materialize even greater discovery to come.”

Russia’s future on the station had been uncertain as Roscosmos discussed plans to develop its own national space station in the latter half of the 2020s. Borisov, shortly after being named head of Roscosmos in July 2022, said that Russia would leave the partnership “after 2024,” which many interpreted to mean immediately after 2024.

Borisov soon softened those remarks, saying that Russia would leave at some time after 2024. He, though, was skeptical that Russia would be involved through 2030, the date set by NASA and accepted by other partners, citing a lack of research it needed to perform on the station and the health of some of the station’s aging modules.

Others at Roscosmos offered similar remarks. “‘After 2024’ could mean 2025, 2028 or 2030,” said Sergei Krikalev, executive director of human space flight programs at Roscosmos, at a NASA briefing in August. “The decision about the termination of the program will be based on the technical condition of the station and assessment of outcomes.”

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson did not mention the Russian statement in testimony before the House Science Committee April 27 about the agency’s fiscal year 2024 budget request, but did emphasize, as he has repeatedly done since Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, that a good working relationship continues with Roscosmos.

“We built it together and we have to operate it together,” he said of the U.S.-Russian partnership on the station. “That goes on today without a hitch.”

The partnership continues, he said later in the hearing, despite technical issues such as coolant leaks on Soyuz and Progress spacecraft while docked to the station. “We think they are on top of it,” he said. “I can’t tell you if that’s a design issue or if it was a production issue.” He added that NASA, working with Roscosmos, “had pretty well ruled out” that it was caused by a micrometeoroid impact, Russia’s initial explanation for the Soyuz leak in December.

“There has not been a problem of transparency between the two of us,” he said of the space station relationship. “We built the station together. We operate it together. Both the astronauts and the cosmonauts know we have to continue to work together for the safety of the crew.”

The cooperation, he said, requires an extension of a long-standing waiver to sanctions imposed by the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA) so that NASA can provide funding to Russia. That waiver was initially linked to payments for Soyuz seats NASA purchased from Roscosmos, but today seats between the agencies are bartered with commercial crew vehicles now in operation.

Nelson did not directly address a question about the need for another INKSNA extension posed by Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas) at the hearing, but again emphasized the need for integrated crews on Soyuz and commercial crew vehicles so that NASA and Roscosmos are guaranteed a presence on the station.

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...