Russia’s Space Boss Threatens the Space Station
The Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to extend its reach—not just around the world, but into space. For that we have Dmitry Rogozin—an intemperate man in what demands to be a temperate business—to blame. Rogozin was the Russian head of Roscosmos’ space agency. This happened back in 2014 when Rogozin was the deputy prime minister. Russia had also launched the first invasion into Ukraine and seize Crimea. After imposing sanctions, just like now, America reacted by threatening to impose more. Rogozin took it a step further.
The spaceship had already been retired and America was dependent upon Russian Soyuz spacecraft for astronauts to reach the International Space Station (ISS). Rogozin took to Twitter to tie the sanctions and America’s humbling dependence on the Soyuz together. “After analyzing the sanctions against our space industry, I suggest to the USA to bring their astronauts to the International Space Station using a trampoline,” he famously tweeted in April 2014.
Rogozin is now Roscosmos director and Russia has been deep in war throughout Ukraine.
The ISS is kept in flight partly because of regular reboosts of the Soyuz spacecraft’s engine docked to its Russian counterpart. Rogozin threatened the station with hostilities again in March. “The Russian segment ensures that the station’s orbit is corrected … including to avoid space debris,” he wrote on the messaging app Telegram. Along with the message he published a map showing that the ISS passes over only a small portion of Russia in its orbits, but does pass regularly over the U.S. and Europe—where a falling station could theoretically crash. “The populations of other countries, especially those led by the ‘dogs of war’, should think about the price of the sanctions against Roscosmos,” he wrote.
As follows: Live Science reports, Rogozin spoke out yet again, this time threatening to abandon Russia’s space station partnership with the U.S. entirely. In a statement to the government-owned Rossiya-24 TV channel, Rogozin said: “The decision has already been made.” He did not say exactly when the breach would happen—only that it would—and that Moscow would give Washington a year’s notice of when it intends to abandon the outpost, “in accordance with our obligations.”
This is all just talk. NASA and The Biden Administration both expressed hope that the old station will be kept in orbit until 2030. That would prolong the original agreement between the 15 international partners operating it, to have it decommissioned by 2024. Russia hasn’t yet indicated its intention to extend its cooperation up until 2030. If Russia announces in 2023 that it intends to leave the country in one year, then it will simply stick to its original timeline of 2024.
What’s more, while it’s true that the station depends on the Soyuz for its periodic reboosts, an American spacecraft could do just as well and NASA is already testing the ability of a U.S. Cygnus cargo vessel to do the job. The biggest danger from Rogozin’s latest threat is not to the station itself, but to the international comity that has kept the giant outpost flying for the past 24 years. This great project was not possible without cool minds, but with goodwill. Rogozin is once again demonstrating neither.
The original version of this story appeared in TIME Space. This weekly newsletter covers all things space. Register here.
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