How SpaceX could save the ISS if Russia bails out

The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has vast implications, not only in the geopolitical sphere but also outside the atmosphere.

On the International Space Station (ISS), the Russians are working alongside astronauts from other countries that are currently imposing economic and trade sanctions in an attempt to force their country to stop their invasion of their neighbor. It was only a matter of time before this conflict escalated to the point of disputes over the ISS, but this time an unlikely hero has emerged to defend the interests of Western nations – Elon Musk.

SpaceX’s CEO can be either a master of Twitter diplomacy or a walking liability, depending on who you ask. He has already gained notoriety for comments that led to the SEC fining him for tweets about his other company – Tesla. But if there is one in power who could surpass Musk in Twitter communication style, it could be Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Roscomsos.

At the start of the Ukrainian conflict, when the status of the ISS cooperation agreement was still undetermined, the most powerful person in the Russian space agency suggested that the country could use the ISS as a weapon. If Russia were excluded from the ISS program, said Rogozin, “who will save the ISS from uncontrolled deorbiting and falling to the United States or Europe? It is also possible to drop a 500 ton structure on India and China. Do you want to threaten them with such a prospect? The ISS does not fly over Russia, so the risks are all yours.

His comments are indeed grounded in reality – there are Russian-made rockets that help keep the ISS afloat by being permanently attached to the Russian part of the module. If Roscosmos took its support from the structure, it would not be able to maintain its orbital path and would eventually experience an uncontrolled descent through the atmosphere. It’s also large enough that at least parts of it would survive this descent and cause massive destruction if it were to strike anywhere on earth, which it certainly wouldn’t be the case in Russia.

This type of threat shouldn’t be taken lightly, though Musk’s response was both measured and punchy — he simply replied to the Twitter thread with a photo of the SpaceX logo. He and others believe that with relatively minor modifications, SpaceX’s Dragon capsules could attach to the ISS and provide the lift that would be missing if Russia decided to no longer support the station with its rockets.

This isn’t the first time Musk and the head of Roscosmos have clashed. In 2014, during Russia’s latest incursion into Ukrainian territory, the United States also threatened the country with sanctions. Rogozin, who was still the head of the agency at the time, suggested that NASA use a trampoline to put its astronauts into orbit because, at the time, the US space agency was unable to to launch any of its crewed rockets. Six years later, after SpaceX successfully flew astronauts to the ISS in their Dragon capsule, Musk joked at a conference that “the trampoline works.”

After the latest round had been defused a bit as the conflict continued, Rogozin himself issued another descent statement, tweeting: “As the diplomats say, ‘our concerns have been heard'”. However, the invasion is still ongoing and the penalties have steadily increased over the past week. Hopefully threats to the operability of the ISS will not materialize, but if Russia withdraws its support from one of the last bastions of the interface with the West, there is at least an alternative to keep it at flow, however, loved or hated the figurehead of this alternative could be.

This article was originally published on Universe today by Andy Tomaswick. Read the original article here.

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