Eight ways Russia’s war in Ukraine is affecting space exploration

A sector that has always been sheltered from political struggles on the ground is becoming increasingly vulnerable following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Sanctions imposed on Russia by the US, UK, EU and Japan are affecting activities in space, with Russia suspending cooperation with many countries in response to the sanctions.

Germany has suspended all scientific cooperation with Russia, which has also halted all Soyuz rocket launches from a spaceport in French Guiana.

The National highlights eight ways space exploration is affected.

UK OneWeb satellite launch canceled

Russia has refused to launch 36 OneWeb satellites, which belong to a British start-up.

He gave the company an ultimatum to sever ties with the UK government for the launch to go ahead, but the company refused.

Russia’s demands were in response to sanctions imposed by the UK.

On March 4, the satellites were removed from the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The cosmodrome has been the launch site for Soviet and Russian rockets since the country began exploring space in 1957.

OneWeb said it will no longer use Russian Soyuz rockets for its launches.

ExoMars mission launch ‘unlikely’

The European Space Agency has announced that the launch of the joint ESA-Russia ExoMars mission is not expected to take place in September.

The mission had been in development for many years and was one of the largest joint Russian-European projects outside of the International Space Station.

“We are fully implementing the sanctions imposed on Russia by our member states,” the ESA said. “As for the continuation of the ExoMars program, the sanctions and the broader context make a launch in 2022 highly unlikely.”

ESA built the Rosalind Franklin rover for the mission, and Russia provided the rover’s landing pad and several scientific instruments.

The mission was to take off on the Russian Proton rocket.

Political struggles reach the International Space Station

Since the space station was put into orbit 20 years ago, it has always been immune to political instability.

But as Russia continues to react aggressively against the sanctions imposed on it, the future of cooperation on the ISS is in jeopardy.

The Russian space agency Roscosmos has announced that it is suspending all scientific collaboration with Germany on the space station.

There are seven astronauts on the ISS right now, including four Americans, two Russians and one German.

The ISS is a joint project of Russia, the United States, Japan, Canada and ESA.

Operations on the ISS cannot stop immediately, the American and Russian segments being dependent on each other. The United States depends on the Russian segment of the station for propulsion while the Russians receive electrical power from the American segment.

However, the head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, threatened to let the station fall back to Earth.

“If you block cooperation with us, who will save the ISS from an uncontrolled deorbit and fall to the United States or… to Europe? There is also the possibility of dropping a structure of 500 tons [on] India and China,” he tweeted.

“Do you want to threaten them with such a prospect?” The ISS does not fly over Russia, so all the risk is yours. Are you ready for them?

Soyuz rocket launches from Europe’s spaceport suspended

Russia has suspended all operations from the European spaceport in French Guiana in response to EU sanctions.

Roscosmos launched its Soyuz rockets from there. The European company Arianespace also launches its rockets from French Guiana.

The Russian space agency has withdrawn all of its employees – 87 in total – from the launch site that supported Soyuz launches.

The suspension has led to uncertainty over the fate of future launches, including two European Galileo navigation satellites due to go into orbit in April and another pair later in the year.

Germany shuts down space telescope on Russian satellite

The eRosita telescope, funded by the German Aerospace Center and Roscosmos, was put into safe mode after Germany announced it would no longer be involved in scientific collaboration with Russia.

The telescope had been studying black holes since its launch in 2019 aboard a Russian-built Spectrum-Roentgen Gamma satellite.

“All collaborative activities with Russian institutions on ongoing or planned projects will be discontinued,” the German Aerospace Center said. “There will be no new projects or initiatives with institutions in Russia.”

SpaceX prioritizes cyber defense for its satellites

Billionaire Elon Musk had announced that SpaceX would prioritize cyber defense and ways to overcome signal jamming to protect its Starlink internet satellites and users.

The company has activated Starlink satellite broadband service in Ukraine, after an appeal from Kiev to provide stations to the beleaguered country.

But Mr Musk warned that it was the only non-Russian communications service still operating in Ukraine, and that the likelihood of it “being targeted was high”.

“SpaceX has reprioritized cyber defense and resolving signal jamming. Will cause slight delays in Starship and Starlink V2,” he tweeted.

Russia stops supplying rocket engines to the United States

Mr Rogozin said his country would no longer supply rocket engines to American companies.

These include the RD-180 engines that power United Launch Alliance’s Atlas C rocket and the RD-181 engines that power Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket.

He said “America can fly on their broomsticks,” a phrase that quickly went viral in the space community, with SpaceX calling one of their rockets an “American broomstick” during a live broadcast of a launch.

Twitter feud between Russian space chief and American astronaut

Russia’s space chief has blocked US astronaut Scott Kelly after a feud between the two on Twitter.

Mr Kelly, who spent a year living on the space station, criticized Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Mr Rogozin’s threats to withdraw from the ISS.

“Get out, moron!” Mr Rogozin said in a tweet that was later deleted. “Otherwise, the death of the International Space Station will be on your conscience.”

Mr Kelly replied in Russian, asking him why he deleted his tweet.

“Don’t you want everyone to see what kind of kid you are?” said Mr. Kelly.

Updated: March 10, 2022, 06:55

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