Rogozin Out, Seat Swaps In

Rogozin Out, Seat Swaps In

Today saw two big announcements affecting U.S.-Russian International Space Station cooperation. First came the news that Dmitry Rogozin, the vituperative head of Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, was removed from his job. Then NASA issued a statement confirming that at long last it had reached a seat-swap agreement with Roscosmos where U.S. astronauts will launch to ISS on Russian spacecraft and Russian cosmonauts on U.S. spacecraft on a no-exchange-of-funds basis. It is not clear whether the two are related or coincidental.

Dmitry Rogozin in a 2018 photo published by TASS.

In a very brief statement, the Kremlin announced that Rogozin had been “dismissed” as General Director of the State Space Corporation Roscosmos effectively immediately.

Russia’s state news agency TASS later reported that Yuri Borisov has replaced him, adding that Rogozin’s “resignation” was not related to “any complaints” and he would “receive a new appointment.”

Until today, Borisov was Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister for the defense and aerospace sectors, a job he got in 2018 after Putin demoted Rogozin from that very position after reportedly falling out of favor.

Rogozin is a strident nationalist and Putin supporter who was appointed as Deputy Prime Minister for defense and aerospace in 2011. He held that position when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and came under U.S. sanctions along with parts of the Russian space industry. At the time the United States was relying on Russia to ferry crews to and from the ISS because the space shuttle had been terminated and new U.S. systems were not yet ready. Rogozin took a belligerant stance, famously tweeting that the U.S. could send its astronauts to the ISS via a trampoline instead. His words had no effect. U.S. astronauts continued to launch on Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

That was just the beginning of years of offensive tweets. The imposition of additional U.S. sanctions after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 sparked even more.  Harkening back to his trampoline quip, Rogozin tweeted that the U.S. could send its satellites to space on broomsticks because Russia would no longer sell or service rocket engines to U.S. companies, a hollow threat. The workhorse U.S. rocket is SpaceX’s Falcon 9, which has U.S.-made engines. The United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V uses Russian RD-180 engines and Northrop Grumman’s Antares uses RD-181s, but both companies say they have all they need.

Europe also ended or suspended its space projects with Russia and has been the target of Rogozin’s animosity. Rogozin said earlier this week that Russia no longer would cooperate with ESA on the European Robotic Arm (ERA), but that device is already in orbit. It is part of Russia’s new Nauka space station module, which arrived last summer. Russian cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev and ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti are getting ready to make a joint spacewalk next week to continue activating it.

They are two of the seven international crew members currently aboard ISS. Artemyev is one of three Russian cosmonauts who arrived on Soyuz MS-21. Cristoforetti is one of four members of the SpaceX Crew-4 mission.

Crew-4, L-R: Bob Hines (NASA), Samantha Cristoforetti (ESA/Italy), Jessica Watkins (NASA), Kjell Lindgren (NASA). Credit: NASA


Soyuz MS-21 crew, L-R: Sergey Korsakov, Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev (all Roscosmos). Credit: Roscosmos

ISS is the one exception to the chill in space cooperation with Russia. Built as an inter-dependent international facility with modules and other hardware from the United States, Russia, Europe, Canada and Japan, it would be difficult if not impossible to operate without both NASA and Roscosmos.

NASA officials have been insisting since February that ISS operations continue as usual, with space- and ground-based crews working seamlessly together despite Rogozin’s outbursts. The strain increased somewhat last week when the three Russian cosmonauts on ISS were photographed holding up the flags of two Ukrainian territories, Donetsk and Luhansk, that Russia now claims.

NASA “strongly” rebuked Russia for using ISS for political purposes.

That was last week. Today, in a lengthy statement, NASA said agreement had finally been reached on the seat-swap or crew-exchange deal under negotiation at least since 2018.

NASA paid Russia to take crews back and forth for many years, but now that SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is operational it’s a different matter. NASA and Russia have long agreed on the premise that at least one Russian and one American must be onboard to ensure safe operations and the way to do that is to have one of each nationality on every crew launch. Agreement was delayed in part because Russia apparently was hoping to convince the United States to continue paying, but the agreement announced today does not involve payments by either side.

NASA’s emailed statement explains the rationale for the agreement and names the astronauts and cosmonauts who will fly on upcoming missions.

“To ensure continued safe operations of the International Space Station (station), protect the lives of astronauts, and ensure continuous U.S. presence in space, NASA will resume integrated crews on U.S. crew spacecraft and the Russian Soyuz with the Russian State Space Corporation Roscosmos. Flying integrated crews ensures there are appropriately trained crew members on board the station for essential maintenance and spacewalks. It also protects against contingencies such as a problem with any crew spacecraft, serious crew medical issues, or an emergency aboard the station that requires a crew and the vehicle they are assigned to return to Earth sooner than planned.

“Integrated crews have been the norm throughout the International Space Station Program in order to maintain safe operation of the space station. Five space agencies (the Canadian Space Agency, the European Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, NASA, and Roscosmos) operate the station, with each space agency responsible for managing and controlling the hardware it provides. The station was designed to be interdependent and relies on contributions from each space agency to function. No one agency has the capability to function independent of the others. The no-exchange-of-funds arrangement includes transportation to and from the International Space Station and comprehensive mission support, including all necessary training and preparation for launch, flight operations, landing and crew rescue services. The first missions to include integrated crews under this agreement will be in September 2022.

“With the agreement in place, NASA has assigned astronaut Frank Rubio to an upcoming mission as a flight engineer and member of the Expedition 68 crew, and Loral O’Hara as a flight engineer and member of the Expedition 69 crew. Rubio, along with cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin of Roscosmos, is scheduled to launch Wednesday, Sept. 21, on the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. O’Hara, along with cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub, is scheduled to launch spring 2023 on the Soyuz MS-23 spacecraft.

“Roscosmos has assigned cosmonaut Anna Kikina as a flight engineer and member of the Expedition 67/68 crew, and cosmonaut Andrei Fedyaev as a flight engineer and member of the Expedition 68/69 crew. Kikina, along with NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, and JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Koichi Wakata, is targeted to launch on NASA’s SpaceX Crew-5 in September from Launch Complex 39A at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Fedyayev, along with NASA astronauts Steve Bowen and Woody Hoburg are targeted to launch on NASA’s SpaceX Crew-6 in spring 2023.” — NASA statement, July 15 2022

First up are NASA’s Frank Rubio on Russia’s Soyuz MS-22 on September 21 and Roscosmos’s Anna Kikina on the SpaceX Crew-5 mission also at the end of the September. She is the only woman in Russia’s cosmonaut corps. This will be her first flight. It is also Rubio’s first space mission.

Astronaut Frank Rubio. Credit: NASA

Whether Rogozin’s departure and the announcement of the crew exchange agreement are related is unclear, just as whether Rogozin was dismissed because Putin was displeased with his performance or has another job in mind for him.

Cosmonaut Anna Kikina. Credit: Roscosmos

Meanwhile, Borisov is now in charge of Roscosmos. Russian space enthusiast Katya Pavlushchenko (@katlinegrey) tweeted that Borisov had his first meeting with Roscosmos officials today and said the priorities are “mass production of military and civilian spacecraft, space equipment construction and the unification of the component base.” She added that he said science and cooperation are not priorities “but that was obvious. Let’s hope he will not destroy what little remains after Rogozin’s eccentric behavior.” She did not cite the source of the information.



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