Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine this week will have devastating consequences for the local population. Although the ground implications of this war are far greater than those for space, there will still be implications for space programs worldwide.
President Joe Biden even mentioned space during a speech on Thursday about US sanctions against Russia following its invasion. "Between our actions and those of our allies and partners, we estimate we will cut more than half of Russia's high-tech imports and deal a blow to its ability to further modernize its military," he said. "It will affect their aerospace industry, including their space program."
So what does this mean? Although this crisis is still very early, this article will attempt to outline how this conflict could affect space travel. As the situation is dynamic and the political landscape turbulent, please note that rapid changes are possible.
international space station
The most important space question concerns the fate of the International Space Station, which is operated by 15 nations but led by the United States and Russia. Countries depend on each other: Russia provides fuel and propellants to periodically propel the space station to higher altitudes, and NASA's gyroscopes provide stability, and their solar panels generate most of the electricity . Currently, the station cannot be operated without the agreement of both partners.
Following Biden's comments on Thursday, the head of Russia's largest space company, Dmitry Rogozin, launched a series of tweets calling Biden's actions "sanctions against Alzheimer's disease." A full translation of Rogozin's comments can be found here. In his tirade, Rogozin complained about the loss of sales of RD-180 engines (dated 01/01/2023), Elon Musk ("talented businessmen") and other annoyances. Rogozin also seems to assume that the US government will prevent NASA from working with Russia.
“If you block cooperation with us, who will save the ISS from an unguided de-orbit to hit US or European territory? asked Rogozin. "It is also possible that the 500 ton construction will hit India or China. Do you want to threaten them with such a prospect? The ISS does not fly over Russia, so all the risk is on you. Are you ready ??"
In response to those comments, NASA issued a measured response late Thursday, saying it was continuing to work with Russia and its partners to get the International Space Station flying safely. "The new export control measures will continue to enable US-Russian cooperation in the civil space," the agency said. "No changes are planned for the agency's support for in-orbit operations and ongoing ground stations."
Dmitry Rogozin says he doesn't appreciate 'openly hostile' US policy
It remains in the interest of NASA and the Russian space program to continue operating the space station. However, the situation could change due to political pressure, particularly from the US Congress.
For example, an American Republican from Houston, Dan Crenshaw, tweeted Thursday night that NASA should end its partnership with Russia. “It is time to replace the Russians on the International Space Station. Throw them away, train Ukrainian cosmonauts and see if @elonmusk can replace the Russian half of the station with something that won't collapse," Crenshaw said.
If the relationship breaks down, NASA and its business partners could likely find a way to use the Northrop Grumman Cygnus and SpaceX Crew Dragon vehicles to speed up the station, while accelerating the development of some sort of service module. But even such a temporary solution would take months or years to improvise.
The bottom line is that unless the United States and Russia engage in an artillery war, the most likely course for the space station is that it will continue to fly for at least a few more years. , and maybe even until 2030. But given the current tensions and those of the last 12 months, this will probably be the last major partnership between NASA and Roscosmos in space for a very, very long time.