Why is Russia still welcome on the International Space Station despite geopolitical tensions? According to Wikipedia:

The Wolf Amendment is a law passed by the United States Congress in 2011 that prohibits the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) from using government funds to engage in direct, bilateral cooperation with the Chinese government and China-affiliated organizations from its activities without explicit authorization from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Congress.

There was the Wolf Amendment, which was passed in 2011 while tensions between China and the United States were low, so I am wondering why a similar amendment wasn't passed against Russia given that geopolitical tensions between the two countries are at an all-time high. Is there something that I am not aware of that might give the United States a second thought?

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    It is worth mentioning that USA-Rusia (then SU) cooperation in space started during the Cold War, and it was maintained at some level. For example in 1975 the [Apollo-Soyuz mission] saw the rendez-vous in space of ships from both countries.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Jul 25, 2021 at 20:59
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    Geopolitical tensions between the USA and Russia are currently at an all-time high? What was the Cold War? Chopped liver? Commented Jul 25, 2021 at 23:06
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    @MasonWheeler The Cold War was between the USA and the Soviet Union, so for the all-time-high one would have to consider the period since 1991 or from before the Russian Revolution.
    – gerrit
    Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 14:52

5 Answers 5


In addition to RedGrittyBrick's correct answer, also do not forget that between 2011 and 2020, russian Soyuz rockets were how to get to and from the ISS. If tensions between the US and Russia had extended to the ISS, it would have been the USA losing access to the station, not Russia.

Update: RedGrittyBrick has updated his answer to include the transport aspect, so you can stop upvoting this one. Upvote his, it has more details on the other important aspects.

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    Considering how much interdependent is everything in and in relation to ISS, it would be not USA losing access, it would be everyone losing access (e.g. Russians would not have the funds needed). Hardly an acceptable outcome.
    – fraxinus
    Commented Jul 26, 2021 at 6:57
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    @CGCampbell Why doesn't this answer the question? Until very recently, Russia controlled the only way to get to the ISS, so it would have been impossible to kick them out even if NASA wanted to. That seems like an important part of the answer.
    – divibisan
    Commented Jul 26, 2021 at 14:43
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    @CGCampbell the only date reference in the question is 2011 so unless the OP clarifies that he is asking only about the immediate presence, I'm assuming he is talking about the present and recent past, such as the last decade or so. Tensions with Russia are hardly new, the west has been ramping up its anti-russian propaganda for at least that time now. (not judging if its justified or not, but it's clear that propaganda is being used).
    – Tom
    Commented Jul 26, 2021 at 21:32
  • @fraxinus US is not as irreplaceable as Americans like to think. Funding for ISS is not limited to US partnership on ISS. I moved from US to Russia a few years ago, and met an engineer working on a Russian module for the ISS. The only thing that Russia lacks to completely sustain the ISS, is a reliable energy module. But if partnership is terminated, with no access to the ISS, US would not have any means of preventing other Partners from taking over US modules. Other partners would likely continue using US modules, and work out a mechanism to maintain and/or replace US modules.
    – MishaP
    Commented Jul 27, 2021 at 16:04
  • No one in the ISS partnership is irreplaceable. Well, both Russia and USA abandoning the project together will make Europeans and Japanese think fast, but only that much. The main reason why it exists as a partnership is that it is expensive as hell. So are other big scientific projects like e.g. LHC. The world colaborates because everyone needs the scientific product. The Russians having a stockpile of rocketry disproportional to their economy left over from the cold war is a secondary factor.
    – fraxinus
    Commented Jul 27, 2021 at 16:49


Russia owns a significant part of the ISS


Access to the ISS is governed by an international treaty, the Space Station Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA)

Article 9 (Utilization) Clause 4 says

  1. In its use of the Space Station, each Partner, through its Cooperating Agency, shall seek through the mechanisms established in the MOUs to avoid causing serious adverse effects on the use of the Space Station by the other Partners.

The US would have to give a years notice if the US wished to withdraw from this agreement.

Note that the ISS agreement is between governments and therefore is probably different in kind to the "direct, bilateral cooperation" between NASA and China affiliated organizations described in the Wolf amendment. Those would be lower level matters than agreements between governments.


The Russian portion of the ISS has thrusters which are used to adjust both the attitude and altitude of the ISS. There are no thrusters in the US portion.


In the recent past, travel to and from the ISS relied entirely on Russian spacecraft. There are alternatives now but the Russian spacecraft is currently the one with a proven record.

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    In particular, only the Russian segment has attitude control thrusters, until very recently, only Russia could bring crew to the ISS, and until at least next year, Russia will be the only backup option for crew, in case a problem is discovered with Falcon 9 or Dragon. Commented Jul 26, 2021 at 18:42
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    @JörgWMittag While attitude control thrusters sound like very useful items, and I wish I had one for a number of people around me including myself, I think you meant altitude thrusters, unfortunately.
    – Neinstein
    Commented Jul 27, 2021 at 11:45
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    @Neinstein The Russian Orbital Segment (ROS) thrusters are used to control both attitude and altitude. The primary attitude control mechanism is the set of control moment gyros (CMGs) in the US Orbital Segment. The CMGs can and do get saturated. The ROS thrusters are used as attitude control thrusters to desaturate the CMGs. The ISS flies in the Earth's thermosphere, so it gradually loses altitude. The ROS thrusters are also used to reboost the ISS to a higher altitude. There are no thrusters on the US side of the ISS. Commented Jul 27, 2021 at 12:16
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    @Neinstein, my understanding is that the thrusters are also used to control the ISS attitude (orientation with respect to flight path etc) as well as adjusting altitude by speeding up or slowing down. Commented Jul 27, 2021 at 12:18
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    @RedGrittyBrick There will be only one time the thrusters will be used to slow down the ISS, which will be when the ISS needs to be decommissioned. The ISS is big and has some rather solid parts that will survive reentry. The plan is to eventually make it crash into the Pacific, as far from land as possible. Commented Jul 27, 2021 at 12:24

The Wolf Amendment was a focused attempt to stop China's specific behavior of stealing civilian space technology and using it to develop military capabilities

The Wolf Amendment was not passed just to give China a slap on the wrist because of "geopolitical tensions." The Wolf Amendment was passed because there was a concern that China was engaged in a deliberate effort to acquire US technology in order to improve their nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology.

Specifically, it was claimed in the Cox Report that China was using information gained from commercial satellite launches to improve their rocket technology, and then using these improvements to make better nuclear weapons. At least 2 commercial satellite companies in the US were fined for giving technology to the Chinese in violation of US Export controls.

A "Wolf Amendment for Russia" would be pointless because Russia already has advanced ballistic missiles

There's no real point in a "Wolf Amendment" for Russia because Russia hasn't needed to steal information about civilian space programs and use this data for military applications. Russia has been a world leader in ballistic missile technology ever since the 1950's.

  • I will add links in a little bit; I'm posting from my phone.
    – Joe
    Commented Jul 26, 2021 at 15:33
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    +1 Because this is the only answer that is not about why the US and Russia (and the EU) continue to cooperate in the ISS, but about why a similar cooperation was started with Russia but not with China. An addition about why China wasn't included in the Space Station International Agreement would be nice.
    – Pere
    Commented Jul 26, 2021 at 21:04
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    Besides the obvious point of "Russia owns about half the ISS so we can't just kick them out", this answer is the correct one at addressing the actual reasoning.
    – Keavon
    Commented Jul 26, 2021 at 22:23
  • @Pere That is a very good suggestion and I will expand the answer accordingly.
    – Joe
    Commented Jul 27, 2021 at 13:44
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    @Tom That's a different kind of missile than the ones that Wolf Amendment was passed to prevent improvement of in 2011. Ballistic missiles are the kind that fly high to space and then fall back down, e.g. the kind you use to deliver nuclear weapons to another continent.
    – Joe
    Commented Jul 27, 2021 at 17:49

Much of the ISS was built by the Russians, including the central control room. They are one of the primary stake holders, on equal if not higher ground with the US.

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    Russia is indeed one of the primary stakeholders, but functions of Russian segment are duplicated in US segment (except for altitude control). That includes flight computers - US segment have a spare that's normally not used. In fact, "central control room" of a Russian segment was actually made by European Airbus. On the other hand, Russian segment depends today on US segment for energy and orientation. As far as I understand, it was a political decision to split ISS functions between RU, EU and US segments and make those dependent on each other, but it can be undone with relative ease. Commented Jul 26, 2021 at 12:59
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    @SergeiOzerov Our friends on space exploration stack exchange explored this question in greater detail: Can the US Part of ISS survive independent of the Russian?
    – Philipp
    Commented Jul 28, 2021 at 7:51

In fact, Russia is preparing to leave:

Last Monday, as Russia celebrated the 60th anniversary of the launch that made Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin the first human in space, President Vladimir Putin called for a new space development strategy over the next decade.

But in previously untelevised remarks that aired Sunday on the state-run Rossia 1 broadcaster, Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov disclosed plans to “honestly notify [foreign partners] of our withdrawal from the ISS starting in 2025.”

Of course, finances is a problem, as always, but space is in priority now.

Also, it should be noticed, that ISS lifetime is approaching its end (it is about 23 years on orbit), so accidents and breakdowns would increase from year to year.

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    A space race is a good method of bankrupting the less powerful economy while advancing the technology in the meantime. It worked in the past, I think now Russia is not even the main target.
    – fraxinus
    Commented Jul 26, 2021 at 10:36
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    p.s. the ISS being old and worth scrapping is the Russian propaganda approach to the problem. ISS is pretty much modular and can be gradually upgraded up to and including a complete replacement of all modules.
    – fraxinus
    Commented Jul 26, 2021 at 10:39
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    @RonJohn theoretically Nauka will be detached from the ISS to form part of the next Russian space station. In practice I suspect they're bluffing to try and shake NASA down for more money because they won't be able to afford to build a new one. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Commented Jul 26, 2021 at 14:10
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    According to "shake down". Let's remember, that last russian crash on space launch was in 2018. Let's then remember last US crashed "launch". Early 2021, as I remember was last rocket blowing. So, why money don't help? Of course, money IS a problem. But it's far cheaper to produce something in Russia, than in the US - just because cheaper worktime. So, comparing in dollars is not very fair. Commented Jul 26, 2021 at 14:28
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    ?? Maybe you need to find some sources of information other than Russian propaganda. You'll learn that Falcon 9 has a better mission success rate than Soyuz.
    – Zeus
    Commented Jul 27, 2021 at 2:21

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