Is the International Space Station (ISS) at risk of becoming a secondary victim of the crisis between Moscow and the West, after the Russian offensive in Ukraine on February 24? While space remains one of the last areas of Russian-American cooperation, it is clear that the conflict is expanding little by little in this area as well. That raises questions about the possibility of a “crash” of the station, now occupied by four Americans, a German and two Russians.
In any case, this is the threat that Vladimir Putin’s country has been swinging vigorously with for days. For example, the boss of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, confirmed on Saturday that Western sanctions could cause the fall of the ISS. A way of asking for the lifting of these reprisals, which weigh heavily on the Russian economy.
Indeed, according to Dmitry Rogozin, these would affect the supply of the Russian segment of the station, which is mainly used to correct the trajectory of the runway structure. And for good reason, theCrews and supplies are transported there by Soyuz ships and Progress freighters. However, the launch vehicle required for the departure of these ships is “ under US sanctions since 2021 and under EU and Canadian sanctions since 2022 complained Dmitry Rogozin. As a result, not being able to perform these operations, which are performed an average of 11 times a year (including to avoid space debris), can cause the emergency landing or the landing of the ISS, with a weight of 500 tons he warned.
Russia safe from potential crash, Moscow says
The one who has been prime minister of the space sector for more than ten years and regularly scores with his provocative statements, has thus warned Westerners about the consequences of a possible incident. Because Russia would find itself largely sheltered in case the device should fall, he claimed, and published a map of the world where it could be damaged.
“The people of other countries, especially those ruled by the dogs of war” [les Occidentaux, ndlr] should think about the price of sanctions against Roscosmos,” he wrote, calling those who imposed them “crazy.”
From the beginning of the conflict, Dmitry Rogozin warned of catastrophic consequences in a series of tweets:
† You want to destroy our partnership on the ISS? This is what you are already doing by limiting exchanges between our cosmonaut and astronaut training centers. Or do you want to manage the ISS yourself? Perhaps President Biden does not know, so explain to him that the correction of the station’s orbit, avoiding dangerous encounters with space debris, with which your talented businessmen have polluted the orbit close to Earth, is carried out exclusively by the engines of the Russian freighter Progress MS. If you block cooperation with us, who will save the ISS from an uncontrolled deorbit and fall to the United States or Europe? ’, he had posted on the social network on February 24 morning.
In this tense context, NASA announced on March 1 that it was working on solutions to keep the station in orbit without Russia’s help.
Frozen scientific collaboration
Beyond the ISS, the entire space domain is turned upside down. In particular, in early March, Roscosmos announced its intention to prioritize the construction of military satellites, amid Russia’s growing isolation following the conflict in Ukraine. Dmitry Rogozin also said that Moscow will no longer supply the United States with American rocket engines Atlas and Antares.
† Let them fly through space on their broomsticks ‘ he had remarked.
In addition, the ExoMars program, from which Mars rover Rosalind Franklin would take off in 2022, has been postponed indefinitely for the time being. Roscosmos has also ended its commercial programs with countries that have introduced sanctions, including the United Kingdom, which would put satellites of the OneWeb constellation into orbit via a Soyuz rocket.
More generally, all scientific collaborations came to an end after the Russian offensive in Ukraine. Notably, the CNRS suspended all cooperation with Russia, while CERN distanced itself.