Bridenstine-Rogozin Meeting Not Set Yet

Bridenstine-Rogozin Meeting Not Set Yet

Russia’s space state corporation Roscosmos announced Sunday that NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine will meet with Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin in October at the Baikonur Cosmodrome.  A NASA spokeswoman said today, however, that details of Bridenstine’s trip to see the Soyuz MS-10 launch “are still being worked on and are not confirmed.”

On August 12, Roscosmos issued a press release stating that “The meeting between Dmitry Rogozin and Jim Brandenstine [sic] will be held in October 2018 in Baikonur.” [Google translation.]

Ordinarily the meeting of two space agency heads would be unremarkable, especially between NASA and the leader of one of the other partners in the International Space Station (ISS), but Rogozin is in a class by himself.

During his tenure as Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the defense and aerospace sectors (December 2011 – May 2018) he became renowned for his intemperate tweets about U.S.-Russian space relations. He tweeted on April 24, 2014, for example, that “After analyzing the sanctions against our space industry I suggest the US delivers its astronauts to the ISS with a trampoline.”  (Since the U.S. space shuttle program was terminated in 2011, U.S. astronauts have had to rely on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to get to and from ISS.)  He also threatened that Russia would end its participation in ISS in 2020 and terminate sales of RD-180 engines to the United Launch Alliance, which uses them for its Atlas V rockets.  None of those threats came to fruition.

His criticism was equally harsh internally. He lashed out at earlier Roscosmos directors after various failures and replaced them (Anatoly Perminov in 2011, Vladimir Popovkin in 2013, and Oleg Ostapenko in 2015) and led the restructuring of Roscosmos from a government space agency to a state corporation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed Rogozin as Deputy Prime Minister when he began his fourth term in May and gave him the job running Roscosmos instead.  At the time, Igor Komarov headed Roscosmos.  The reason for Komarov’s departure and Rogozin’s arrival on May 24 was not publicly explained. Russia’s official news agency Tass said only that Putin had “met with Rogozin and suggested him occupying this position.” Forbes noted that Rogozin was the only member of Putin’s inner circle to be replaced and had been “much criticized for incompetence.”

Rogozin seems to have embraced his new role and toned down his rhetoric.  He met with NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaier and U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman in June while Gerstenmaier was at Baikonur for the Soyuz MS-09 launch. A Roscosmos press release said the participants “expressed hope for improvement of Russian-American relations and cooperation in the field of space should become one of the bases for their restoration.”  He has met with others in the international government and commercial space sectors as well.

U.S.-Russian ISS cooperation has been unaffected so far by the changed geopolitical situation between the two countries including rising concerns about the threat Russia poses to U.S. national security space systems.  Yesterday, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance Yleem D. S. Poblete called Russia’s pursuit of counterspace capabilities “disturbing given the recent pattern of Russian malign behavior.”

Nonetheless, Russian and American ISS crew members live and work together every day.  Russia continues to ferry U.S. astronauts to and from ISS.  NASA pays Russia approximately $82 million per seat.  The next launch, Soyuz MS-10, is scheduled to lift off from Baikonur on October 11 with NASA astronaut Nick Hague on board.

Asked to confirm Russia’s announcement that Bridenstine and Rogozin will meet, NASA spokeswoman Megan Powers told via email today: “Schedule permitting, Administrator Bridenstine is planning to travel to Russia and Kazakhstan in October to support the Soyuz launch of American astronaut Nick Hague.  Specific details regarding the Administrator’s planned visit and meeting schedule are still being worked on and are not confirmed.”

Rogozin is not permitted to come to the United States because of the sanctions, so unless they are lifted, which seems unlikely, wherever he and Bridenstine meet, it will not be here.

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