Rogozin Not Interested in Cooperating with U.S. on Lunar Program, Prefers China

Rogozin Not Interested in Cooperating with U.S. on Lunar Program, Prefers China

The head of Russia’s space state corporation, Dmitry Rogozin, said today that he is not interested in working with the United States on lunar exploration. He prefers China, “a worthy partner,” while the U.S. lunar program is “more of a political project.”

Dmitry Rogozin, Director General, Roscosmos. Credit: Mikhail Klimentyev/Russian president’s press service/TASS (Nov 19, 2018)

NASA and Roscosmos are partners in the International Space Station (ISS) program, which has survived the changed U.S.-Russian geopolitical environment since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.  NASA is talking to all the ISS partners about their interest in participating in the Artemis program to return astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024 and establish a sustainable program of lunar exploration and utilization thereafter.  The other partners are Canada, Japan, and 11 European countries working through the European Space Agency (ESA).

As a first step, NASA is gauging interest in international participation in building the Gateway, a small space station that will be in lunar orbit.  Because of its operational similarity to the ISS, NASA is leveraging the Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) that governs ISS cooperation to formulate new agreements with ISS partners. NASA officials have indicated that the process is moving forward with Canada, Europe and Japan, but less quickly with Russia although NASA is hoping Russia will provide an airlock.

Separately, NASA is hoping to sign bilateral agreements with countries interested in working together on the lunar surface called the Artemis Accords.

Rogozin poured cold water on the idea of U.S.-Russian cooperation on lunar activities, however, during an interview on the 5th anniversary of the establishment of Roscosmos as a state corporation. Previously it was a government agency.

“For the United States this is now more of a political project. With the lunar project, we are observing the departure of our American partners from the principles of cooperation and mutual support that have developed in cooperation with the ISS. They see their program not as international, but as similar to NATO. There is America, everyone else must help and pay. Honestly we are not interest in participating in such a project.”

Instead, he championed working with China, noting he had discussed “the first steps” of cooperating on a “lunar scientific base” with his Chinese counterpart earlier in the day.  “For us, it is now a worthy partner.”

Rogozin noted that exploration of the Moon and Mars is very expensive and “[s]haring responsibility and financing” is important.

Russia’s space program has relied for many years on funding from NASA for crew transportation services to and from the ISS and from foreign customers for commercial satellite launches on its once-reliable rockets.  But NASA’s commercial crew systems are now becoming available for ISS and the agency does not plan to purchase any more seats on Russia’s Soyuz.  At the same time, Russia’s Proton rocket no longer enjoys the stellar reputation it once had and competition from SpaceX has made winning contracts that much more difficult.

Whether Rogozin’s statements today represent official Russian policy, a negotiating tactic, or a simple lament by someone known for vituperative comments is difficult to assess.  He is under sanctions from the United States and other countries because of his role in the annexation of Crimea when he was Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the defense and aerospace sectors.

Although NASA will not be purchasing Soyuz seats in the future, the two countries still need each other to operate the ISS and NASA plans to fly Russians on the U.S. commercial crew systems and Americans on Soyuz, but on a no exchange of funds basis. The two sides agree that at least one American and one Russian must be aboard ISS at all times to operate the U.S. and Russian segments, respectively.  In his interview today, Rogozin called it a “good idea” once SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s Starliner are certified.

He went further to suggest that Russians and Chinese may fly on each other’s spacecraft, too.  China is the only other country to send humans into space and is planning to build its own multi-modular space station beginning this year.

Despite his dismissal of lunar cooperation with the United States, Rogozin did refer to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine as a friend and cited space cooperation as “an important bridge of interaction.”

The lengthy interview covered many other subjects including the recent news that Russia has signed an agreement not just to take a space tourist to the ISS, as it has done several times already, but to allow the tourist to make a spacewalk.

“If the space tourist is willing to pay decent money for his best specialists in the world to prepare for such an exit, why not?  Naturally, the astronaut will be nearby. Naturally, everyone will be tied, as they say, so that no one gets unhooked. Naturally, all necessary security measures will be taken. But in principle, if Roscosmos provides this kind of service for space tourism, I am absolutely convinced that this service will be in demand.”

Note:  all translations are via Google Translate


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