Biden Imposes More Sanctions on Russia, But No Apparent Impact on ISS

Biden Imposes More Sanctions on Russia, But No Apparent Impact on ISS

President Biden and U.S. allies announced new sanctions today against Russia following its invasion of Ukraine. Among them are further export controls, but NASA says they will not affect U.S.-Russian civil space cooperation. That includes operations of the International Space Station.

President Biden addresses the nation on sanctions against Russia due to its invasion of Ukraine, February 24, 2022. Credit: White House photo.

In a televised address to the nation this afternoon, Biden laid out “strong sanctions” that will impose “severe costs on the Russian economy” in concert with allies around the world.

Without getting into specifics, he said the sanctions will “strike a blow to their ability to continue to modernize their military. It’ll degrade their aerospace industry, including their space program.”

An associated fact sheet issued by the Department of Commerce said the sanctions include a stringent licensing review policy that will require case-by-case reviews for export applications related to government space cooperation.

Under the stringent licensing review policy being implemented, applications for the export, reexport, or transfer (in-country) of items that require a license for Russia will be reviewed, with certain limited exceptions, under a policy of denial. The categories reviewed on a case-by-case basis are applications related to safety of flight, maritime safety, humanitarian needs, government space cooperation, civil telecommunications infrastructure, government-to-government activities, and to support limited operations of partner country companies in Russia.

“Only certain sections” of seven license exceptions are available for exports to Russia, one of which is “AVS (Aircraft, Vessels, Spacecraft), for aircraft flying into and out of Russia.”

NASA said in a statement this evening that the sanctions will still allow U.S.-Russian civil space cooperation to continue.

NASA continues working with all our international partners, including the State Space Corporation Roscosmos, for the ongoing safe operations of the International Space Station. The new export control measures will continue to allow U.S.-Russia civil space cooperation. No changes are planned to the agency’s support for ongoing in orbit and ground station operations. — NASA

Nonetheless, Biden’s speech triggered a Twitter tirade by Dmitry Rogozin (@Rogozin), Director General of Roscosmos, Russia’s equivalent of NASA. Among other things, he caustically asked if the United States wants to operate the International Space Station by itself and then who will save it from reentering uncontrollably over the United States, Europe, India or China, claiming its orbit does not take it over Russia “so all the risks are yours, are you ready for them?”  Except for the final tweet, they are in Russian and translated here by Google Translate.

Biden said the new sanctions would affect the Russian space program. OK. It remains to find out the details:
1. Do you want to block our access to radiation-resistant space microelectronics? So you already did it quite officially in 2014.”

“As you noticed, we, nevertheless, continue to make our own spacecraft. And we will do them by expanding the production of the necessary components and devices at home.
2. Do you want to ban all countries from launching their spacecraft on the most reliable Russian rockets in the world?’

“This is how you already do it by limiting exchanges between our cosmonaut and astronaut training centers. Or do you want to manage the ISS yourself? Maybe President Biden is off topic, so explain to him that the correction of the station’s orbit, its avoidance of dangerous rendezvous with space ..”

“garbage, with which your talented businessmen have polluted the near-Earth orbit, is produced exclusively by the engines of the Russian Progress MS cargo ships. If you block cooperation with us, who will save the ISS from an uncontrolled deorbit and fall into the United States or…’

“Europe? There is also the option of dropping a 500-ton structure to India and China. Do you want to threaten them with such a prospect? The ISS does not fly over Russia, so all the risks are yours. Are you ready for them?
Gentlemen, when planning sanctions, check those who generate them for illness”


“Alzheimer’s. Just in case. To prevent your sanctions from falling on your head. And not only in a figurative sense.
Therefore, for the time being, as a partner, I suggest that you do not behave like an irresponsible gamer, disavow the statement about “Alzheimer’s sanctions”. Friendly advice”

Rogozin was Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister in charge of defense and aerospace in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and is under U.S. and European sanctions himself because of it. He is known for his vituperative personality, sometimes expressed on Twitter, but NASA Administrators including Bill Nelson have found a way to work with him constructively.

His comments about the possibilty of ISS reentering over the United States, Europe, India or China refers to the fact that Russia’s space station module Zvezda and its Progress MS cargo spacecraft are used to correct the space station’s altitude, which must be raised periodically to compensate for atmospheric drag, and Progress spacecraft will be used to deorbit the ISS over an uninhabited region of the Pacific Ocean at the end of its life. The other ISS partners — the United States, Canada, Japan, and 11 European countries — currently do not have spacecraft that can perform that function, although the recently launched Northrop Grumman Cygnus NG-17 spacecraft will perform an orbit-correction maneuver for the first time operationally.

The ISS orbit takes it over all parts of the Earth between 51.6 degrees North and 51.6 degrees South latitude. Most, but not all, of Russia is above that latitude.

The complaint about needing to maneuver ISS to avoid “garbage with which your talented businessmen have polluted the near-Earth orbit” appears to be a reference to SpaceX’s hundreds of Starlink communications satellites that are part of  the population of objects in low Earth orbit that other space objects, like ISS, must avoid.

The most recent need to maneuver ISS out of harm’s way was in November 2021 when debris from a Russian antisatellite test threatened the facility and the seven crew members had to shelter in place. The crew is composed of two Russians, four Americans, and one German representing the European Space Agency.

ISS Expedition 66 crew, L-R: Pyotr Dubrov (Russia), Thomas Marshburn (NASA), Anton Shkaplerov (Russia), Raja Chari (NASA), Mark Vande Hei (NASA), Kayla Barron (NASA), Matthias Maurer (ESA/Germany).

The ISS is composed of a Russian segment and a U.S. segment that includes modules and hardware from Europe, Canada, and Japan. The segments are co-dependent and it is difficult to imagine how it could function as a research facility if the partnership ended.

During a George Washington University seminar yesterday, the Director of the U.S. State Department’s Office of Space Policy, Valda Vikmanis-Keller, also conveyed that ISS cooperation is continuing uninterrupted despite Russia’s hostile actions towards Ukraine. Her colleague, Eric Desautels, who heads the Office of Emerging Security Challenges & Defense Policy, added however that the United States is focused on using sanctions and export controls to slow and delay Russian military space systems by ensuring they do not get parts from the U.S. or its allies.

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