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Russia to use International Space Station till 2024
Moscow (AFP) Feb 25, 2015

Russia will continue using the International Space Station in partnership with NASA until 2024, its space agency said, after Moscow had threatened to pull out and stop financing it by 2020.

Roscosmos has finalised a plan for its activities up to 2030 which "provides for the use of the ISS until 2024," the space agency said in a statement late Tuesday.

It also announced plans to begin manned missions to the moon by 2030 but said its objectives would be adjusted according to financing.

"We are taking into account possible changes in financing and the programme will get updated," Yury Koptev, the head of the agency's scientific and technical committee, said.

NASA had already said the ageing ISS will remain operational until 2024, but Russia's participation had been in question.

Russia had said it wanted to wind up its role in 2020 and in December delayed a final decision, while deputy defence minster Dmitry Rogozin, who oversees the space industry, threatened to "use those resources on other promising space projects."

Russia's decision to postpone its departure from the ISS to 2024 is dictated by the current economic crisis, sparked by low oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine, said independent space analyst Vadim Lukashevich.

"All these hopes and dreams have been cancelled by the crisis. There's no money for a new station," Lukashevich told AFP.

"Clear-headed people decided to stay on the ISS. Otherwise we risk losing our manned space exploration."

- Headed to the moon -

The decision was welcomed by NASA astronaut Chris Hadfield, famous for the 2013 cover of David Bowie's song Space Oddity he performed on the ISS.

"This is excellent news, especially when read between the rhetoric. ISS is a key global symbol," Hadfield wrote on Twitter.

Russia's space agency said its long-term plan was to create its own space station using modules from the Russian section of the ISS after it is mothballed.

"This is absolutely rational. They will be relatively new and not obsolete," said Lukashevich.

The space agency said it wanted "to ensure Russia's guaranteed access to space."

Russia's space agency also announced plans to renew its lunar programme, which will start with unmanned spacecraft that will orbit and land on the moon's surface.

"Close to 2030, the plan is to move over to manned flights to the moon," it said.

Russia's space programme is one area where Moscow is still actively working with the US. Sixteen countries are involved in the ISS, with Russia and the US providing most of the financial backing.

Russia's leadership has recently fired senior officials at the space agency and carried out restructuring after embarrassing and costly failures of rockets carrying satellites and cargo to the ISS.

Since the termination of the US shuttle programme, Russia is the only country able to ferry astronauts to the international station. This year it is set to carry the first space tourist since 2009, British soprano Sarah Brightman.

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