141 countries vote for Russia to withdraw from Ukraine (Bloomberg)

The Impact of Conflict on Space

The peaceful cooperation in space between Russia, USA and the rest of the world is now the weakest it has ever been since the Cold War. And it may well be irreparable.

Since its inception in 1998, the International Space Station has not only served as a shared hub for space research among five space agencies, but it also represented the international friendship and peaceful partnership between the spacefaring nations, including the US and Russia, on a global scale.

The NASA astronauts and Soviet Cosmonauts who were aboard the test flight of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (NASA)

The ties especially between the US and Russia, despite starting out as competitors during the space race era, had strengthened when they joined forces to carry out the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, where an Apollo spacecraft ferrying NASA astronauts docked with Soyuz spacecraft with Soviet cosmonauts in 1975. Despite all the hurdles overcome and initiatives undertaken to bridge the gap between Russia and the US, the current developments in Ukraine have placed the decades-long effort of forging a strong bond with Russia into jeopardy.

Although there have been speculations in the beginning that the Russian-Ukrainian conflict may not disrupt cooperation in space, much has changed since then. As the Russian forces continue to storm Ukraine, many nations around the world have come forth to voice their condemnation.

Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana (ESA)

In response to the criticisms at a global level, Roscosmos reiterated their stance by pulling out the Soyuz rockets from launching in Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, and has stopped all space collaborations with their European partners. Furthermore, joint projects, such as the Venera-D mission with NASA and ExoMars mission with the ESA, have been respectively canceled and postponed indefinitely.

The US has shown its disapproval by imposing heavy sanctions on Russia which may affect their technological advancements and missions in the Russian space program.

In a dramatic Twitter response, Dmitry Rogozin, the director of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos, reminded the US of Russia’s vital contribution to the propulsion system of the ISS and the potential uncontrolled de-orbit and crash of the ISS over Europe or the United States. Rogozin via Twitter:

“If you block cooperation with us, who will save the ISS from uncontrolled deorbiting and falling into the United States or Europe? There is also the option of dropping a 500-ton structure to India and China. Do you want to threaten them with such a prospect? The ISS does not fly over Russia, so all the risks are yours. Are you ready for them?” ​​

The International Space Station (NASA)

The US aerospace and defense company, Northrop Grumman, has stepped in and offered to help if Russia decides to cut all ties with the ISS, and Elon Musk has implied SpaceX’s assistance on Twitter as well.

Russia’s use of the ISS as a bargaining chip is not new. Back in 2014, when the country invaded Crimea, it responded to US’s sanctions by implying the halt of transporting NASA astronauts to the ISS on their Soyuz rockets, which at that time was NASA’s only mode of transport to the space station.

Soyuz spacecraft docked to the ISS (NASA)

Luckily for NASA, SpaceX has been ferrying NASA astronauts to the ISS since 2020, which means the space administration does not solely depend on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft anymore. Moreover, amidst the chaos, neutral networks, such as DµST, can be beneficial in times of conflict when it comes to space operations and management.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon docked to the ISS (NASA)

As much as the world condemned the actions of Russia on Ukraine, the Russian Space Agency has taken just as much effort into responding by severing links with partnering nations in the space sector. In essence, the country has ejected itself from not just the space community, but everywhere else as well. With all the sanctions and isolation Russia is facing, it may not have the economical power to survive this if they continue to violate the sovereignty of Ukraine.

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