Russia has announced it will end co-operation on the International Space station until Western-led sanctions over its Ukraine invasion are lifted.
The head of the country’s space agency said it will no longer work with its partners, including NASA and the European Space Agency, on the groundbreaking orbiting laboratory.
The chief of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, revealed the move on Twitter and said he will submit a timetable for completion of current projects to the Kremlin.
It follows weeks of threats, delays and cancelled projects from Roscosmos since a wave of sanctions were introduced against oligarchs linked to warring Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Most astronauts aboard the ISS currently return to Earth aboard Russian Soyuz flights, but Elon Musk’s SpaceX Crew Dragon also now transports crew to the space station and has made four visits so far since its inaugural voyage in 2020.
The current crew is made up of three Americans (Kayla Barron, Thomas Marshburn, Raja Chari) three Russians (Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev, Sergey Korsakov) and one German (Matthias Maurer).
Rogozin previously said ‘who would save the ISS?’ if Russia were to withdraw from the project. It prompted US billionaire Elon Musk to reply: ‘SpaceX’ – the name of his private space company.
The ISS, a symbol of post-Cold War detente, is split into two halves, with life support coming from the US half, and propulsion, stopping it falling to Earth, coming from Russia’s side.
Rogozin previously said their responsibilities on the ISS could fall to the US or Europe if it pulled out, but the US said it would be ‘very difficult’ to operate the satellite on its own.
Russia and the US had been able to bury their differences this week when NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei returned to Earth alongside two Russian counterparts.
It came just days after three Russian cosmonauts arrived at the ISS wearing yellow and blue flight suits, which some people saw as a show of support for Ukraine and a humiliation for Putin’s regime.