The four American, two Russian and one German astronauts currently living together 400 kilometers above Earth on the International Space Station (ISS) may become the most unexpected collateral victims of the war in Ukraine.
“If the US blocks cooperation with us, who will save the ISS from an uncontrolled de-orbit or fall on the US or Europe?” Dimitri Rogozin has threateneddirector of Roscosmos, the Russian space agency.
Байден заявил, что новые санкции коснутся российской космической программы. Ок. Остается выяснить details:
1. Вы хотите перекрыть нам доступ к радиационностойкой микроелектронике космического назначения? Так вы это уже сделали вполне официально в 2014 году.
— РОГОЗИН (@Rogozin) February 24, 2022
The US and Russia have been cooperating for almost 25 years on this space outpost, in which the European Space Agency, Canada and Japan also participate. Yesterday, US President Joe Biden announced a new series of sanctions on Russia that, among other things, “will degrade its aerospace industry, including the space program.”
The Russian response through the mouth of the head of Roscosmos —journalist, philosopher, expert in the theory of war, former ambassador to NATO and former vice president of the country— has been incendiary: “There is also the option that a 500-ton structure falls on India and Chinese. Wants [el presidente Biden] threaten them with such a prospect?” Rogozin wrote. On twitter.
The tension between Russia, the US and the EU may have important consequences for space exploration. In 2014, following the Russian invasion of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, NASA issued a directive to all of its employees to suspend all contact with their Russian counterparts. The agency banned all of its employees from traveling to Russia. Rogozin was punished by being banned from entering the US The EU did the same and paralyzed all his accounts in the countries of the union.
Following Rogozin’s statements, NASA has assured that cooperation with Russia on the ISS will remain intact. Despite the new economic sanctions, “civil cooperation in space between Russia and the US will continue,” a NASA spokesman told CNN. The agency “continues to work with its international partners, including Roscosmos, on the operation of the ISS,” he added.
Until now, the US and Russia had left the space station out of political combat and economic sanctions. The clearest precedent was the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014. Despite US sanctions, the ISS continued to operate normally. American astronauts continued to fly on Russian Soyuz spacecraft and operations on the ISS were not affected.
In November 2021, Russia shattered one of its satellites by firing a missile at it. The remains of the artifact, dangerous as shrapnel, seriously threatened the ISS crew, who had to wake up in an emergency. The US formally complained to Russia about this maneuver, but relations were not broken.
But the ISS has an uncertain future. Last year, Russia warned that if the United States does not lift its sanctions – especially electronic components for ships and satellites that hamper the progress of Russian missions – it will not renew its commitment to collaborate on the ISS in 2025. The United States wants to continue with the project at least until 2030 and probably beyond.
The war in Ukraine can profoundly affect the US, Russian and European space programs. Until a few years ago, the US could only send astronauts into space aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft. But since 2020 this country already has an alternative: the private ships of Space X, the company of billionaire Elon Musk, in which European astronauts also buy a place. However, the US continues to use Russian ships on time. Francisco Rubio, a US helicopter pilot and astronaut, is scheduled to arrive at the ISS in September aboard a Soyuz. Similarly, Russia intends to use SpaceX’s private ships to send cosmonauts to the station, according to TheVerge.
Europe is also heavily dependent on Russian technology in space. The European Space Agency regularly uses Soyuz rockets to launch unmanned missions into space, as happened with the space telescope Cheops in 2019. In April, a Soyuz is scheduled to put two Galileo satellites into orbit, the navigation system developed by the European Union. ESA and Roscosmos are also collaborating on the Exomars Mars robotic exploration mission, a program that has cost 1.3 billion euros and plans to launch its robot to search for life on the red planet between August and October 2022.
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