A recent report by Russian manufacturer RSC Energia, the main developer and contractor of the Russian spacecraft lighting program, notes that a number of elements aboard the International Space Station are set to fail catastrophically. The damage has become so severe, it will become too costly to repair and as such Russia should focus on completing its own orbital station instead, said ISS Russian Segment Aviation Director Vladimir Alekseevich Soloviev.
“Until 2025, Russia has obligations to participate in the International Space Station program. There are already a number of elements that are severely affected by damage and go out of service. Many cannot be changed. After 2025, we anticipate the failure of the aviation of many elements aboard the ISS, ”said Soloviev, who is also the First Deputy General Designer for Aviation Operations at Energia.
The comments were made by Soloviev during a meeting of the Council of the Russian Academy of Sciences on Space, held November 25, 2020 and reported by Scientific Russia on their website.
Participants included the President of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the chairman of the meeting, Alexander Mikhailovich Sergeev, former Director of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IKI RAS) Space Research Institute, Lev Matveyevich Zeleny, Vice President of the Russian Academy. Sciences Yuri Balega and Director of the Russian rocket and spacecraft scientific center, TsNIIMASH, Alexander Milkovskii.
During the discussion, the Director of Aviation also stated that estimates to solve the problems aboard the ISS would equate to around 10-15 billion rubles, a cost considered “too high” by RSC Energia.
Instead, says Soloviev, it is necessary to “review the terms of further participation in the program” and focus on the operation of the Russian Orbital Service Station (ROSS), which is currently being developed at RSC Energia.
ROSS is expected to consist of three to seven modules that can either be run automatically or with a crew of two to four people. ROSS is expected to be used sometime after 2024, but no exact dates have been mentioned.
The damning remarks made by Soloviev were quickly circulated by Russian media as an indirect suggestion by the Director of Aviation that RSC Energia wanted to end the countries’ participation in the International Space Station program.
This was later rejected by the Roscosmos Press Service which was forced to issue an official denial of the information within a few hours of the news hitting Russian mainstream media.
The quote of RSC Energia’s First Deputy General Designer for Aviation Operations Vladimir Solovyov, “contradicts the reality” said the official rebuttal from Roscosmos, adding that his comments “were of an intelligence nature and did not include proposals to terminate participation the ISS. ”
The rebuttal went on to say that the operational life of the ISS “depends on discussing technical and political issues with partners.” Either way, says Roscosmos, the agency plans to start consultations with NASA and other partners on these topics early next year.
Interestingly, the rebuttal by Roscosmos did not deny Solovyov’s comments on the apparently dilapidated state of the ISS.
Instead, the space agency’s press service reiterated that Roscosmos is awaiting proposals and an engineering note from RSC Energia on the new multifunctional orbital station. After consideration by the Roscosmos Scientific and Technical Council, the project will then be discussed with the Government, the rebuttal said.
This year the ISS has been plagued by a continuous air leak and had to move three times in 2020 alone to avoid debris. However, last year NASA said it was considering allowing the space station two short-term private astronaut missions a year to boost the economy; a proposal that would probably be impossible if the ISS were indeed in a dilapidated state.