The dispute began in April, when a leaked Nasa memo revealed that the agency would be suspending all contact with the Russian government because of the country’s “ongoing violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
Although the involvement of the US government was not explicit, the space agency’s decision was widely assumed to have involved the White House and State Department. Subsequent export restrictions – more specifically, “high technology defence articles or services” – confirmed the US’s intent to punish Russia’s struggling space industry.
However, there’s one area where the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, remains king: transport.
After the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011, the US was entirely reliant on Russian rockets – specifically Soyuz rockets, descendants of those used in the 1975 mission – to get its astronauts to and from the space station.
Last week, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Dmitry Rogozin, said that Moscow was “very concerned about continuing to develop hi-tech projects with such an unreliable partner as the United States”, and declared that the country would reject US plans to use the ISS beyond the station’s planned “retirement” in 2020.
Mr Rogozin later softened Moscow’s stance slightly, saying that the Russians understood that the ISS was “fragile in the literal and figurative sense”, and that it would “act very pragmatically and not put obstacles in the way of work on the ISS”. But, for America, the incident has highlighted the dependency of its current aerospace programmes.
In addition to paying Russia $71m for the privilege of sending a single astronaut to the ISS, the Pentagon relies solely on Russian-made RD-180 rockets for its launches and the country’s current stockpiles – enough for two years – will not be of use if Roscosmos continues to sell engines under the new restrictions: “That they will not be used to launch military satellites.”
Full article: Ukraine crisis in space: US takes on the Russians, only this time it’s over the International Space Station (The Independent)