The Platform


The Russian invasion of Ukraine has changed the geopolitical landscape and given rise to new tendencies of competitiveness in space. In reaction to Russia’s invasion, the U.S. and its allies have imposed tough economic sanctions on Russia, resulting in Russia’s announcement that it is withdrawing from the International Space Station in 2024.

The International Space Station is considered one of the most significant scientific achievements in the past 30 years. It was developed by Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, NASA, Japan’s space agency, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency. Russia has earned billions of dollars every year by sending NASA astronauts to the ISS aboard its rockets.

Russia plans to partner with China on various space ventures to counterbalance the United States and its allies in space. International sanctions have prompted the European Space Agency to halt its collaboration with Roscosmos. The Europeans have also ceased utilizing Russian launch facilities, while Russia has stopped using French Guiana to launch its Soyuz spacecraft.

Following the economic sanctions imposed on Russia, Moscow reaffirmed its intention to exit the ISS and construct its own space station in 2024. NASA reports that Russia has not officially announced its withdrawal and that its claim to have done so could be an effort to have some Western sanctions eased. Russia has shown a serious desire to construct its own outpost, the Russian Orbital Service Station, but accomplishing this would need significant resources, and considering the costs of its misadventures in Ukraine and Western sanctions it’s not entirely clear whether Russia can afford to do so.

If Moscow were to leave the space station, Russia would face some difficulty in simply building a station from scratch due to sanctions. Another difficulty is that due to the equipment present on board the station, research on the effects of prolonged weightlessness on the human body can only be carried out in outer space on a space station.

Additionally, NASA will have to bear the burden of increased funding and expenses for reverse engineering Russian components on the station. The annual maintenance costs for NASA are already projected to be $1.4 billion. Other missions to the Moon and Mars will be delayed as a result of these modifications, giving China time to expand its capabilities.

According to geopolitical trends, after the pullout, Russia will feel more at ease working with China to confront the U.S. and its partners in space. One could argue that by providing both technical and financial assistance, China could assist Russia in accomplishing its goal of constructing its own space station. Collaboration between the two countries is already underway on preparations for a Moon base station.

As an alternative to the Artemis initiative, which is led by the U.S., both China and Russia are establishing their own independent lunar base. The joint Sino-Russian effort seeks to establish a space station in lunar orbit and construct a lunar base. Both are intended to be a cutting-edge experimental research centers. Russia and China are reportedly in talks with the Europeans, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia about joining the ILRS. Unfortunately, since the Europeans withdrew from the Russian lunar series of lunar missions due to the conflict in Ukraine, other countries will undoubtedly find the project to be much less tempting.

China will undoubtedly fill the vacuum that has been growing between NASA and Roscosmos in recent years. Due to Russia’s technological superiority over China in the field of rocketry, China could assist them in constructing a small space station like the Tiangong Space Station in exchange for Russian rocket technology as they are already collaborating on other space-based projects.

Of course, this could all be a moot point because the International Space Station only has a decade or less of life left in her making efforts to go it alone without Russia far less costly.

Amna Kalhoro completed her Master of Philosophy in American Studies from Quaid-e-Azam University and her MSc in International Relations from National defence University, Islamabad.