Mir-2 redux? Russia contemplates new national space station

Russia is considering the creation of a national space station, the head of the Roscosmos space agency confirmed. Earlier a senior Russian official said the country may pull out of the International Space Station project.

The possibility of Russia creating of an independently-operated space outpost was confirmed Monday by Oleg Ostapenko.

“There is this option. We are making calculations at the moment,” Ostapenko said when asked about the possible project.

He added that a national space station would be “a step forward” for Russia and may serve “a number of different purposes,” for instance as a transfer point for the Russian lunar exploration program.

Ostapenko would not elaborate on whether such a project would negatively affect Russia’s participation in the International Space Station – a project operated by a wide collaboration of countries and national space agencies – but said Moscow is faithful to its commitments for space cooperation.

“Regardless of how the leaderships of certain nations form their policies towards Russia, we’ve had good progress in this regard this year and have big prospects,” he said.

International Space Station (AFP/NASA)

But earlier Dmitry Rogozin, the Russian Deputy Prime Minister supervising defense-related policies, said Moscow may discontinue its segment of the ISS after 2020. He added that “the Russian segment [of the ISS] can exist independently from the American one, but the American segment cannot exist without the Russian.”

Russia had a national space station in orbit until 2001, when the Mir space station was deorbited, splashing down into the Pacific Ocean after spending more than 5,500 days in space. Russia cited the age of the station and the high operational costs as the reasons for the decision.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin (RIA Novosti/Sergey Guneev)

A second version of the station, Mir-2, had been in the works since the late 1980s, but was eventually abandoned due to high costs. Several Russian modules of the ISS, including the first one placed in orbit, Zarya, were initially designed for the Mir-2 station.

At the moment China is the only nation that has an independent permanent orbital installation capable of supporting human crews. Beijing refrained from participating in the ISS project and chose to pursue a purely domestic manned space program, though it is based to a large degree on Russian technology.

Washington has dramatically reduced the level of cooperation with Moscow after the Ukrainian crisis in February reshaped modern geopolitics. However cooperation in manned space exploration, an area in which the US is dependent on Russia for delivering ISS crews to and from the station, has been so far unaffected by the stand-off.