Russia Suspends Some Space Cooperation with U.S., Europe

Russia Suspends Some Space Cooperation with U.S., Europe

U.S. and European sanctions imposed on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine were expected to impact Russia’s space program, but Russia is pushing back today by suspending launches of its Soyuz rocket from Europe’s launch base in French Guiana and stopping cooperation with NASA on a planetary science mission. But the two major cooperative programs, the International Space Station and ExoMars, appear to still be on track. Whether that will remain true in the days and weeks ahead is difficult to forecast.

President Biden said the sanctions announced on Thursday will “degrade” Russia’s aerospace industry “including their space program.”

The head of Russia’s space program is fighting back, although the actions he took today do not seem likely to cause major disruptions. Dmitry Rogozin, Director General of the State Space Corporation Roscosmos, NASA’s counterpart in Russia, tweeted today that in light of the sanctions imposed by the European Union (EU), all 87 Russian citizens at Europe’s Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana are headed home and launches of the Soyuz-ST rocket suspended. (Tweet translations by Google Translate.)

“In response to EU sanctions against our enterprises, Roskosmos is suspending cooperation with European partners in organizing space launches from the Kourou cosmodrome and withdrawing its technical personnel, including the consolidated launch crew, from French Guiana.”

“⚡️ There are 87 Russian citizens in French Guiana. We are talking about employees of NPO Lavochkin, who prepared the Fregat-MT upper stage, as well as employees of the Progress RCC (manufacturer of the Soyuz rockets) and TsENKI.”

Russia and the French-based European launch company Arianespace have been cooperating for more than a decade. Arianespace launches three types of rockets from Kourou — Ariane, Vega and Soyuz-ST (a variant of Soyuz-2) — that can lift different classes of spacecraft depending on weight and destination. Ariane and Vega, the largest and smallest, are European-built. Soyuz-ST fills the medium-lift category. The first Soyuz-ST launch from Kourou was in 2011.

Soyuz launch pad at the Guiana Space Centre, Kourou, French Guiana. Credit: ESA

The EU is one of the biggest users of Soyuz-ST for launching its Galileo navigation satellite system, similar to the U.S. Global Positioning System. In fact, the next launch of two Galileo satellites on a Soyuz-ST was scheduled for April.

Galileo also can launch on Ariane rockets, however, so the impact of Russia’s decision may be limited. Thierry Breton, the EU Commissioner for Space, issued a statement that Russia’s decision “has no consequences on the continuity and quality of the Galileo and Copernicus services.” Copernicus is the EU’s earth observation satellite system that is used for science, applications, and security.

As Commissioner in charge of European space policy and in particular of the European space infrastructures Galileo and Copernicus, I take note of the decision of the Russian space agency Roscosmos to withdraw from the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, following the sanctions imposed on Russia by the EU and its partners in response to Russia’s military aggression in Ukraine. I confirm that this decision has no consequences on the continuity and quality of the Galileo and Copernicus services. Nor does this decision put the continued development of these infrastructures at risk.

We will take all relevant decisions in response to this decision in due course and continue developing resolutely the second generation of these two EU sovereign space infrastructures.

We are ready to act decisively, together with the Member States, to protect these critical infrastructures in case of aggression, and continue to develop Ariane 6 and VegaC to ensure Europe’s strategic autonomy in the area of launchers. — Thierry Breton

Rogozin later tweeted that it also would be “inappropriate” for cooperation with the United States to continue on the Venera-D mission.

“⚡ “In the context of the introduction of new and the preservation of previously imposed sanctions, I consider the continued participation of the United States in the Russian project for the development and creation of the interplanetary station #VeneraD inappropriate,” said Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos.”

Venera-D is the next in Russia’s Venus exploration program. The Soviet Union launched a series of Venera missions and another, VEGA, that also visited Halley’s Comet in the 1960s-1980s. Although the United States also launched missions to Venus during that time frame and later that sent back ground-breaking data, the Soviet Veneras were in a class by themselves. Several landers survived long enough to send back images of the brutally hot surface with a surface pressure 90 times that of Earth. The 1982 Venera 13 lander holds the record at 127 minutes.

After a multi-decade hiatus, Russia is planning a return to Venus with Venera-D. Anatoly Zak of says the D stands for Dolgozhivushaya (long-lasting). Russia invited NASA to participate and a joint science definition team has met. Launch is notionally planned in 2029, but the work is in the early stage and funding has been a challenge all along. Zak doesn’t think the project has much chance in any case.

Not to mention that NASA is proceeding with two Venus missions of its own: VERITAS and DAVINCI+. It seems Russia will be hurt more than NASA by terminating this cooperation.

Similarly, it will lose revenue by not launching Soyuz-ST rockets from Kourou.

The big ticket items in cooperation right now are the U.S.-Russian-European-Canadian-Japanese International Space Station, and the Russian-European ExoMars 2022 mission.

NASA’s stance on ISS so far is that it continues to work with Roscosmos and the other ISS partners to ensure safe and continuous operations. Russia is getting ready to launch its next crew on March 18, two Russians and an American are getting ready to return to Earth on March 30, and the first U.S. private astronaut crew to visit ISS, Axiom 1, will launch that same day. The ISS is a busy place with spacewalks and crew and cargo ships constantly coming and going. Rogozin threw a Twitter tantrum on Thursday when the sanctions were first announced and he worried it would affect ISS. He later walked it back.

“As diplomats say, “our concerns have been heard.” @NASA confirmed its readiness to continue to cooperate with @roscosmos on the #ISS.
In the meantime, we continue to analyze the new US sanctions to detail our response.”

As for ExoMars 2022, after years of delay the mission is in its final pre-launch stages. The European Space Agency built the Rosalind Franklin rover and Russia built its Kazachok landing platform. ESA’s Washington Office Director Sylvie Espinasse said earlier this week that Europeans are scheduled to travel to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan next week to integrate the spacecraft with its Proton rocket for launch in September. She added that ESA is closely monitoring the situation.

That was on Tuesday when there still was hope Russia would not invade. Since then, ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher has issued two tweets about ISS and ExoMars. The first was reassuring that civil space cooperation is a “bridge” between nations, but the second, after the full scale assault on Ukraine, had a more somber tone.

ESA confirmed to this evening that it will hold an “internal crisis coordination meeting” on Monday as first reported by Space News’ Jeff Foust.

Separately, on Thursday U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was asked about ISS cooperation during a session of Parliament. He did not mention ISS in his answer, but said he did not see how artistic and scientific collaboration could continue as normal in the current circumstances.

The U.K. is a member of ESA. It also is co-owner of the OneWeb communications satellite system, which is launching dozens of satellites on Russian Soyuz rockets, some from Kourou and some from Russia’s launch sites at Baikonur and Vostochny. On February 16, OneWeb and Arianespace tweeted that 36 satellites had just arrived at Baikonur for launch in March.

OneWeb did not reply to a request for comment by press time on its plans going forward. If OneWeb decides to use other rockets, Russia will lose yet more revenue, although it also likely will have a negative financial impact on OneWeb due to schedule delays.

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