Russia Wants to Build Its Own Space Station

It’s the latest development in a year-long feud between NASA and Roscosmos.

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Dec 15 2014, 8:07pm

​Strange things are afoot at the ISS. Image: NASA/Crew of STS-132.

Today, Roscosmos—Russia's state space agency—announced that Russia is interested in building its own space station. "I confirm we are considering such an option," said Roscosmos head Oleg Ostape​nko. "This is a possible direction of development."

The news comes after a year of increasing tensions between NASA and Roscosmos. In April, the Crimean crisis prompted NASA to cut off all communication and collaboration with Rosco​smos, with the exception of matters concerning the International Space Station.

Then on May 13, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin announced that Russia will cease working with Americans on the ISS come 2020. The Russian Soyuz spacecraft is currently the only ferry to and from the ISS, so a break in Russian/American relations would effectively leave Americans locked out.

The Soyuz spacecraft. Image: NASA.

Fortunately, NASA is fast-tracking its own crew transport system by outsourcing it to SpaceX and Boeing. The two companies were awarded a total of ​6.8 billion dollars in contracts in September, to boost development of manned spacecraft for ISS missions by 2017. That should give NASA three solid years of wiggle room should Roscosmos decide to deliver on its threat.

"NASA is laser-focused on a plan to return human spaceflight launches to American soil, and end our reliance on Russia to get into space," the agency assured the public in a statement.

Since its first component was launched in 1998, the ISS has hosted astronauts from 15 different natio​ns and has become a symbol of global unity with regards to space research. It would be a shame to see it disintegrate over the same rivalries it was designed to overcome. Space stations are meant to be "above all that" in every sense of the phrase.

But at this point, there's no way to guess how serious Roscosmos is about backing out of the ISS in favor of its own station. Indeed, it may well be the latest flare-up between the two agencies, or a case of more geopolitical posturing. And given that Russian economists are projecting that the nation ​will face a recession next year, a multibillion dollar project like a space station could be a very hard sell on the Russian public.

One thing's clear, though: NASA is not going to weigh in on the speculation for the time being. When I reached out for comment, a NASA spokesperson told me that any questions regarding a Roscosmos space station should be directed to Roscosmos. Wow: It even sounds like a parental spat right down to the phrasing. The way in which the feud develops over the next few years will determine the future of the ISS, and international collaboration in space more generally. Here's hoping it survives the turbulence.