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Here's why Russia could be planning to leave the International Space Station

The country played a key role in building the space station we know today. Now, it might be leaving it behind.
Credit: AP
This photo provided by NASA shows the International Space Station as seen from the Space Shuttle Atlantis after the station and shuttle began their post-undocking relative separation on May 23, 2010. Twenty years after the first crew arrived, the space station has hosted 241 residents and grown from three cramped and humid rooms to a complex almost as long as a football field, with six sleeping compartments, three toilets, a domed lookout and three high-tech labs. (NASA via AP)

After nearly 23 years, Russia appears to be planning to leave the football field-sized orbiting laboratory it helped build in 1998.

Several news outlets, citing Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin, report the reason behind the potential departure from the International Space Station is so the country can start building and launch its own space station into orbit by 2030.

It's targeted for cosmonauts to no longer call the ISS home in 2025 based on comments from Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov and officials with the Russian space agency.

"We can't risk the lives [of our cosmonauts]. The situation that today is connected to the structure and the metal getting old, it can lead to irreversible consequences - to catastrophe. We mustn't let that happen," BBC reports Borisov was quoted telling state TV.

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Roscosmos Executive Director for Advanced Projects and Science Alexander Bloshenko told news agency Interfax that Roscosmos is not willing to "waste resources" working aboard a station he finds would take away from research opportunities.

"Considering that the crew has been spending increasingly more time not on scientific experiments, for which the station actually exists, but on its maintenance and repairs, we won't be able to act as a maintenance team in this context," Bloshenko said.

Moscow is said to plan on giving notice to its partners ahead of its final decision on whether or not to separate from the ISS. A departure would essentially cause more than two decades of cooperation with the U.S. aboard the space station to come to an end. 

The ISS operates off the International Space Station Intergovernmental Agreement which is an international treaty signed in the late 90s by the 15 governments involved in the project. 

By leaving the space station behind for their own, Russia would withdraw from the agreement and abandon its segment of the orbiting laboratory.

Such a departure could put a strain on the ISS's operations, but Russia said partners will take responsibility for its portion, according to Interfax. 

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"We are beginning negotiations with our NASA partners, we are formalizing them now, and it does not mean that the station will be scrapped and dumped into the ocean immediately after 2025," Rogozin told the outlet. 

"We will simply hand over the responsibility for our segment to the partners. Or we will do the work necessary for operating the station on the commercial basis, rather than at the expense of the budget," he added.

Reuters reports the Russian station, unlike the International Space Station, would most likely not be crewed and instead operate with the help of artificial intelligence and robots. While Live Science adds the station would serve as a successor to the 1970s and 80s Salyut and Mir stations. 

At this time, Russia plans to construct the new space station by itself, officials told BBC, but are open to the idea of other countries taking part in the effort. 

Per an "informed source," Interfax adds Russia's space station could cost up to $6 billion based on plans the country is already drafting.

The "largest, most complex international construction project" to form the International Space Station began in Kazakhstan when the Zarya Functional Cargo Block launched into low-Earth orbit atop a Proton rocket in 1998.

It's a moment NASA says "kicked off an incredible journey of orbital assembly, operations, and science."

Now, only time will tell if Russia officially leaves its ISS partners in the United States, Europe, Japan and Canada behind. 

10 Tampa Bay has reached out to NASA for comment. This story will be updated as we hear back.

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