It is time to relaunch US-Russian cooperation in space. Nuclear power could hold the key

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It’s no secret that things are getting complicated in space. Late last year, the top stage of a rocket that first passed the Moon in 1966 returned to orbit around Earth, adding to the nearly 8,000 metric tonnes of space debris (more half a million individual pieces) surrounding the planet.[1] Over the past 12 years, the United States, Russia, China, and India have each tested anti-satellite weapons capable of destroying the space infrastructure that forms the warp and weft of our modern economy. Add to that the inauguration of the US Space Force, which recently deployed its first troops overseas to Qatar.[2]; the privatization of space characterized by companies like SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin[3]; and the return of lunar rocks to Earth by China Chang’e-5 probe, which promises to revive the international debate on space resources.[4] You don’t have to be a headline junkie to notice that the pace of change in space is reaching cosmic proportions (pun intended).

In no area of ​​space policy is this complexity more dangerous than in US-Russian relations, which, especially since Russia’s annexation of Crimea, have cooled to the point that some experts speak of a new cold war and even a second space race. Consider the events just over the past year. In May 2020, NASA launched two astronauts to the International Space Station using national technology for the first time since the end of the space shuttle era, breaking a nine-year dependence on vehicles. Russian lifting equipment.[5] At the same time, the agency announced the “Artemis Accords”, an international agreement intended to establish ground rules for space activities; Russia, suspicious of US commercial interests on the moon and seeing the entire lunar program as “too US-centric”, refused to participate.[6] And in February, April, and December, Russia tested direct-ascension and co-orbital anti-satellite weapons. The tests were just the latest manifestation of increased military activity in space, which the Pentagon considers “a combat domain.”[7]


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