Russian-U.S. space cooperation under threat

The Ukrainian crisis, and the subsequent souring of Russia’s relationship with the West, has affected bilateral space cooperation. The first visible wave of sanctions hit the sector on April 2, when NASA’s Associate Adminis­trator for International and Interagency Relations Michael O’Brien sent an internal memo to employees saying that the agency was suspending all contacts with representatives of the Russian government, including “NASA travel to Russia and visits by Russian government representatives to NASA facilities, bilateral meetings, email, and teleconferences or videoconferences”. The U.S. Department of State on the same day announced the suspension of several projects with Russia, including in space exploration.

On closer examination, however, it became apparent that the ban did not affect the joint operation of the International Space Station (ISS), the use of the Russian instruments HEND, LEND, and DAN on U.S. interplanetary probes, or the joint work of the Russian space-based instrument RadioAstron and the U.S. Green Bank radio telescope.

At present, Russian-U.S. space cooperation is mostly focused on the ISS. The station is so designed that no single partner on the program (Russia, the U.S., Western Europe, Canada, and Japan) can operate it single-handedly. In addition, Western astronauts have been arriving and departing on board Russian Soyuz-TMA vehicles since 2011. The Americans, who have no crew ships of their own at the moment, will pay a total of $3.34 billion for Soyuz rides over a period of 10 years.

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