The billionaire, who has never hidden his sympathies for Ukraine, is a competitor of Moscow in the conquest of space.
Elon Musk will not go on vacation to Russia.
When President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Musk was the first Chief Executive Officer to speak out publicly and side with Kyiv. The tech tycoon also sent Ukraine scores of Starlink terminals, the satellite internet connection service offered by his company SpaceX.
Starlink notably allows the Ukrainian population to have a secure internet despite the destruction of telecommunications equipment by the Russian army. This internet connection has enabled the Ukrainian authorities to communicate in complete security, but also the Ukrainian citizens to continue to communicate with the outside world.
Musk had even offered Putin a duel between them to end the war. But his positions had made a lot of noise and aroused anger in Moscow. Musk’s repeated criticism has earned him threats from Putin loyalists.
“Elon Musk is thus involved in the supply of fascist forces in Ukraine with military communications,” Dmitry Rogozin, the head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, wrote last May. The message was posted on Twitter by Musk. “And for this you will have to answer in an adult way, Elon, no matter how you turn on the fool.”
“If I die under mysterious circumstances, it’s been nice knowin ya,” the billionaire responded.
These disputes have caused gaping wounds on both sides. And we just got over it after the announcement that Russia would leave the international space station after 2024.
“You know that we are working within the framework of international cooperation at the International Space Station,” Roscosmos chief Yury Borisov told Putin in a readout issued by the Kremlin on July 26. “Undoubtedly, we will fulfill all our obligations to our partners, but the decision to leave the station after 2024 has been made.”
Roscosmos is Russia’s space agency.
While the great powers are still questioning Moscow’s calculations, there is one person who is not going to miss the Russians. It is Musk.
“Bon voyage,” the entrepreneur reacted, using French to bid farewell.
Is It Just Another Threat?
However, NASA said it had not yet received official notification of the Russian decision.
“The Russians, just like us are thinking ahead to what’s next for them. As we are planning transition after 2030 to commercially operated space stations in low earth orbit, they have a similar plan. And so they’re thinking about that transition as well. We haven’t received any official word from the partner as to the news today, so we’ll be talking more about their plan going forward,” Robyn Gatens, director of the International Space Station for NASA said.
A model of international cooperation bringing together Europe, Japan, the United States and Russia, the ISS began to be assembled in 1998. Its retirement was planned for 2024, but NASA estimated that it could operate until in 2030.
The Russian announcement of wanting to withdraw from the ISS comes ten days after Borissov was appointed head of Roscomos. He replaced the abrasive and ultra nationalist Rogozin, a close Putin ally and Musk’s nemesis.
In 2020, Russia lost its monopoly on maned space launches with its aging Soyuz launchers and spacecraft, with the arrival on the scene of Musk’s Dragon space capsule which can be launched with reusable SpaceX booster rockets.
Russian-Western cooperation in the space field has also been undermined since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Western sanctions taken against Russia because of the war partly affect the Russian aerospace industry and risk having effects on the ISS, some of whose supplies could be disrupted.
This is not the first time that Russia threatened to leave the ISS. Before his dismissal, Rogozin had already hinted that because of the sanctions Russia was going to abandon the idea of extending the life of the ISS until 2030. He had thus claimed in March that without the Russians the ISS would crash on Earth, for lack of means to correct the orbit of the 500 ton structure. Musk tweeted at the time that SpaceX could fulfill that role.
Russia wants to go solo despite the fact that it has faced serious problems which slow down its programs and innovation for many years.