Yuri Borisov, the newly appointed head of Roscosmos, recently announced that Russia is retiring from the International Space Station after 2024. NASA and the Russian space agency work in tandem to keep the station operational, and the latter’s exit will significantly change ISS operations. According to ReutersHowever, NASA was actually preparing for such a possibility long before Borissov made his announcement – and even before the invasion of Ukraine began – in light of rising tensions between Russia and the US.

ReutersSources said NASA and the White House drew up contingency plans for the ISS late last year. Those plans include ways to withdraw astronauts from the station if Russia suddenly leaves and ways to keep the ISS running without Russian hardware. While the American module maintains the balance of the station and provides the electricity it needs to operate using its solar arrays, the Roscosmos module has the thrusters needed to keep the flying laboratory in orbit. That’s why NASA’s contingency plans also reportedly include exploring ways to jettison the station years earlier than planned.

Apparently, NASA has been working on creating a formal request for contractors to come up with ways to deorbit the space station for the past few weeks. However, the agency has included private space companies in its contingency planning in hopes of keeping the ISS in orbit even without Russia. The sources said Boeing has already formed a team of engineers to figure out how to control the ISS without Russia’s thrusters. SpaceX boss Elon Musk before that too expressed interest in helping when former Roscosmos director Dmitry Rogozin criticized Western sanctions against his country, asking who would “save the ISS from uncontrolled deorbiting” if the West blocked cooperation with Russia.

Back in June, Northrop Grumman was successful able to adjust the station’s orbit for future operations using its Cygnus capsule, which was then attached to the ISS. ReutersSources said SpaceX is also looking at using its spacecraft to increase the station’s orbit.

Borissov said Russia had not yet set a date for its exit, but that it would honor its obligations and give partners a year’s notice before leaving. Roscosmos and NASA will likely continue to work closely together until Russia withdraws from the program — they even recently agreed to swap seats on Crew Dragon and Soyuz flights to the ISS.

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