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Russia Will Spin-Off ISS Parts for New Space Station

Russia says it will support U.S. plans to keep the International Space Station operating through 2024, but then wants to split off three still-to-be launched modules to form a new orbital outpost.

The Russian space agency Roscosmos says it will support U.S. plans to keep the International Space Station (ISS) operating through 2024, but then wants to split off three still-to-be launched modules to form a new, independent orbital outpost.

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The announcement this week by a senior planning board reverses previous statements by Russian officials that Russia would end involvement in the 15-nation program in 2020 when current agreements expire.

Despite occasional rhetoric, the Russian-U.S. space marriage has been largely left out of growing economic and political tensions stemming from Russia's invasion of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula last year.

The new Russian commitment puts pressure on station partners Europe, Japan and Canada, to fund a four-year extension as well, but those decisions are pending.

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"This is excellent news, especially when read between the rhetoric. ISS is a key global symbol," former station commander and Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield wrote on Twitter.

Once it pulls out of the international outpost, Russia plans to reposition three of its modules, none of which have yet been launched, to form the base of a new, Russian-owned and operated orbital outpost. In part, Russia plans to use its station as a steppingstone and proving ground for human expeditions to the moon, a translation of a statement posted on Roscosmos' website shows.

"Detailed study and the final decisions are planned after the synthesis of reports of heads of rocket and space industry in subsequent meetings," Yuri Koptev, chairman of the Roscosmos' Scientific and Technical Council and former head of the Russian space agency, said in the statement.

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"Most importantly ... there was a general coordinated point of view. (The council) approved the basic concept of the Russian manned space flight until 2025. We will take into account possible changes in funding, and the program will be updated," he said.

The Moscow Times reports that under President Vladimir Putin, "the space program has seen a measurable increase in funding, with a large 1.8 trillion ruble ($29 billion) boost pledged last year to cover Russia's space activities through 2020."

An overall budget for Russia's space program through 2025 has not been announced, the paper added, noting that the value of the ruble has declined dramatically relative to the dollar since the start of 2014.

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Russia's Zarya module, launched in 1998, was the building block of the International Space Station. Zvezda was launched two years later and serves as the outpost's control module. NASA built the station's exterior truss along with power, cooling and communications systems and installed laboratory modules owned by the United States, Europe and Japan. Canada owns the station's robotic arm.

The partners have been dependent on Russia to fly crews to the station since NASA retired its space shuttle fleet in 2011. A reconfiguration of the station is underway to prepare for new commercially owned space taxis that are slated to begin flying astronauts from Florida again in 2017.

Crewmembers took a ride in a Russia Soyuz capsule to get the first and last shot of a space shuttle berthed to the International Space Station in 2011. The Russian-US partnership that built and oversees the outpost seems likely to continue through 2024.

In recent weeks, the crew on board the International Space Station have been treated to some awesome views of space weather in action. The sun, which has been spluttering out some small to mid-sized flares and coronal mass ejections recently, frequently injects charged particles into our planet's magnetosphere. After being channeled toward high latitudes by Earth's magnetic field, this solar plasma impacts our atmosphere, erupting into a stunning auroral display.

What is the Aurora Borealis?

This view from the space station was captured by one of the crew and shows the multicolored streamers of an aurora over the Southern Hemisphere -- known as the Aurora Australis. The different colors correspond to different gases in the atmosphere becoming energized by the solar plasma impacting the atmosphere at high altitudes.

Russian cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev

captured this eerie photo

of a diffuse aurora over Earth out of one of the space station's windows. The orbiting outpost's solar panels can be seen to the left.

With the space station's robotic Canadarm 2 folded outside the space station, NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman

posted this photograph of an aurora to Twitter on Aug. 29

.

A bright green aurora snakes over the atmosphere below the space station. Green aurorae are caused by lower altitude oxygen atoms in our atmosphere being energized by solar wind electrons.

A burst of beautiful green and red aurorae were spotted on Aug. 19 and NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman

tweeted this photo with the message

: "Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine this."

The nighttime hemisphere of the Earth is almost dark apart from the ghostly glow of a green aurora.

Often resembling a curtain swaying in the wind, aurorae are strikingly dynamic. They morph into a variety of shapes depending on the quantity of solar plasma hitting the atmosphere and the orientation of the magnetic field.

Photographed here by ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst

on Aug. 27, a stunning, curved aurora cuts across the limb of the Earth.

Looking down at Earth during a solar storm, ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst

tweeted this photo on Sept. 2 with the message

, "This is what we see looking down while being inside an aurora."

The moon sets into an "glowing ocean of green",

as described by ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst in a tweet on Sept. 3

. Two Soyuz spacecraft can be seen in the foreground docked to the space station.