What economic sanctions mean for Russia’s space program

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Following Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine last week, the West has united in its condemnation of the aggression and decreed sweeping economic sanctions against the nation. Financial fallout is already happening, with the ruble losing 20% ​​of its value against the dollar and who could fall even more of the international monetary system. The pecuniary shock waves created by these sanctions are likely to impact all sections of Russian society with far-reaching consequences for the Roscosmos space program and the continued safe operation of the International Space Station.

These “strong sanctions”, US President Joe Biden Thursday, will impose “significant costs on the Russian economy” in an effort to “deal a blow to their ability to continue modernizing their military.” It will degrade their aerospace industry, including their space program.

Economic sanctions are and were widely used throughout the 20th century by nations in an effort to obtain specific behaviors from their neighbors. What distinguishes this circle is its width, . Russia was cut off from the SWIFT international payment system and in the US, EU and UK, as are those in Putin’s upper echelon. Western airports and seaports are now closed to Russian commercial travel while as well as the American – all vital components of the Russian space program – have been banned.

Russia has imposed retaliatory sanctions against its own Western companies. Wednesday, Roscosmos has announced that it will not launch the next batch of 36 OneWeb internet satellites that were scheduled to take off on March 4 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. These satellites will not enter orbit, Roscosmos officials have threatened until the UK-based company meets two demands: that the UK government sell its stake in OneWeb and that the company guarantees that its satellite constellation satellites will not be used for military purposes. OneWeb has yet to publicly respond to the requests.

“Russia’s actions are an immediate danger to those living in Ukraine, but also pose a real threat to democracy around the world,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in a statement Thursday. “By acting decisively and in close coordination with our allies and partners, we send a clear message today that the United States of America will not tolerate Russian aggression against a democratically elected government.

Despite the economic downturn that the Russian people are about to suffer in the name of Putin’s cartographic wrangle, NASA remains optimistic that the sanctions will not negatively impact ongoing collaborative space programs, such as operation of the ISS.

The ISS has, since its inception, been a joint US-Russian effort. Originally born out of a foreign policy plan to improve relations between Cold War enemies after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the conclusion of the space race, the International Space Station would not exist without the cooperation of Russia. Soyuz rockets helped put ISS modules into orbit and, after the space shuttle retired in 2011, were the only way to get astronauts into orbit and back, at least until the arrival of SpaceX. Of the station’s 16 habitable modules, six were provided by Russia and eight by the United States (the rest being sent by Japan and the European Space Agency). Just last summer the 813 cubic meter Nauka science module.

Dmitry Rogozin, director general of Roscosmos, himself still personally under sanctions due to the Crimean incident of 2014, expressed an alternative opinion in response to the news.

“Do you want to manage the ISS yourself”, he asked insistently . “Perhaps President Biden is off topic, so explain to him that the station’s orbit correction, its dangerous rendezvous avoidance, is produced exclusively by the engines of Russian Progress MS freighters.”

“If you block cooperation with us, who will save the ISS from uncontrolled deorbiting and fall to the United States or Europe,” Rogozin continued. “There is also the possibility of depositing a 500 tonne structure in India and China. Do you want to threaten them with such a prospect? The ISS does not fly over Russia, so all the risk is yours. Are you ready for them?

The remark of “uncontrolled deorbiting” appears to be a direct reference to Russia’s aid in the withdrawal of the space station at the end of the decade. On Saturday, Roscosmos fired the 87 Russians in Kourou, French Guiana and away to protest the sanctions.

“I wasn’t surprised, given his past behavior,” former space station commander Terry Virts said. of the Rogozin explosion. “That’s what I expected.”

Rogozin’s comments come more than seven weeks after NASA announced plans to keep the ISS operational until 2030, although the US space agency and Roscosmos are still negotiating a new ‘crew swap’ deal. , which would see astronauts and cosmonauts sent to the ISS aboard both. American and Russian rockets. Russia’s obligations to the ISS and, even before the invasion of Ukraine, Russia rumbled .

“The Russian segment cannot operate without the electricity on the American side, and the American side cannot operate without the propulsion systems that are on the Russian side,” noted former NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman. . “So you can’t do an amicable divorce. You can’t do a conscious uncoupling.”

As such, “NASA continues to work with all of our international partners, including State Space Corporation Roscosmos, for the continued safe operations of the International Space Station,” the agency said. after Rogozin’s rant. “The new export control measures will continue to enable US-Russian civil space cooperation. No changes are planned for the agency’s support to ongoing operations in orbit and on the ground.

However, Russia’s space future in the eyes of other ISS stakeholders is less clear. “I have been broadly supportive of continued artistic and scientific collaboration,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the House of Commons on Thursday. “But in the current circumstances, it’s hard to see how even these can continue as normal.”

More immediately, Roscosmos that its public portal was under cyberattack. “A massive DDoS attack from various IP addresses has been carried out for several days on the Roscosmos website. Its organizers may think that it affects something. I will answer: it only affects the timely awareness of enthusiasts of the space to Roscosmos news,” Rogozin said. tweeted, while ensuring that the security of the ISS was not immediately threatened.

And since you can’t even utter the phrase “public crisis” without Elon Musk running through a nearby wall like a Kool-Aid man, SpaceX is, of course, getting shoehorned into this new global conflict.

On Feb. 25, Musk proposed that SpaceX step in and keep the ISS in orbit, if Russia refuses. The space station is currently where it is thanks to regular deliveries of propellant reagent by the Russian space agency, but if these shipments stop, the ISS will be unable to counter the planet’s atmospheric drag and will eventually slow down in a capture orbit where it will fall to Earth. . By taking over, SpaceX could keep the ISS aloft without the added hassle of outfitting a Falcon 9 to replace Russia’s undelivered deorbit spacecraft. And even if SpaceX can’t do it, the engine attached to the which arrived on February 21 is powerful enough to give the ISS an orbital boost and a temporary reprieve.

SpaceX is also putting its constellation of Starlink satellites into play. On Saturday, Ukrainian Digital Minister Mykhailo Fedorov took to Twitter to ask for help from the satellite internet provider after . Less than 48 hours after Musk pledged his support, more than a dozen . “Starlink service is now active in Ukraine”, Musk . “More terminals along the way.”

To date, Starlink has launched more than 2,000 Internet-broadcasting cubesats into orbit, a fraction of the more than 40,000 the company plans to launch eventually. CNBC indicates that the company has from January.

It would be unwise at this stage to predict how the Russian invasion will play out, whether the economic sanctions imposed will bring a quick resolution to the conflict or slowly strangle a declining world power. We cannot fully foresee the myriad implications arising from these monetary decisions or their impact on global collaboration and space exploration in the years to come. But in the midst of this uncertainty and chaos, we can take comfort in knowing that life, at least aboard the ISS, .

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