The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been dominating the news cycle lately. Amid tragic stories about rocket strikes, stalled offensives, and possible motives and outcomes, there’s been an ongoing “war of words” on social media. In particular, Dmitry Rogozin, the Director-General of the Russian State Space Corporation (Roscosmos), has been issuing thinly-veiled threats that Russia might be terminating its cooperation in space.
This included a video posted on Telegram by the state-controlled Russian news agency RIA Novosti that shows the Russian modules detaching from the International Space Station (ISS). In response to all the threats and hyperbole, NASA decided to host an FAQ session where they posted commonly-asked questions about the ISS In what is eerily reminiscent of what happened in 2014, NASA let the world know that the ISS is still going strong and won’t be decommissioned anytime soon!
While the FAQ session does not address statements made by Rogozin directly, it tacitly acknowledges and answers them strategically. For example, NASA addressed the nature of the ISS partnership, which nations are involved*, how astronauts will continue to fly to the ISS if one space agency no longer provides launch services, and the plan for decommissioning the station.
*Member states include NASA, Roscosmos, the European Space Agency (ESA), the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
Russian gov’t-controlled RIA Novosti @rianru posted a video on Telegram made by @Roscosmos where cosmonauts say goodbye to Mark Vande Hei on #ISS, depart, and then the Russian segment detaches from the rest of ISS. @Rogozin is clearly threatening the ISS program. #NASA #Ukraine pic.twitter.com/fj2coK1xR1
— NASA Watch (@NASAWatch) March 5, 2022
First and foremost, they stress that one cannot simply disassemble the ISS by detaching its modules. This was a direct challenge to the video posted by RIA Novosti and the way it depicted cosmonauts sealing their modules and leaving like it was no big deal. Says NASA:
“The space station was not designed to be disassembled, and current interdependencies between each segment of the station prevent the U.S. Orbital Segment and Russian Segment from operating independently. Attempts to detach the U.S. Orbital Segment and the Russian Segment would encounter major logistical and safety challenges given the multitude of external and internal connections, the need to control spacecraft attitude and altitude, and software interdependency.”
They then provide a seven-point list detailing how operations are interdependent and who provides what. This includes propulsion and attitude control (Roscosmos), altitude control and orientation (NASA), thrusters and propellant (Roscosmos), solar power (NASA), satellite communications and data transfer between Earth and the station (NASA), life support (both), and mission control (both).
Then there’s the issue of getting to and from the ISS, which they admit is not presently doable. “Each astronaut has custom hardware including a launch and entry suit or a seat liner that is not interchangeable between different models of spacecraft,” they write, adding that transferring from one spacecraft to another would “require a different launch and entry suit that is custom fitted and created on the ground.”
The issue of transportation has been a sore point ever since 2011 when the Space Shuttle’s retirement forced NASA and its partners to rely upon Roscosmos to provide launch services. When Russian forces annexed Crimea in 2014, this dependency became a bone of contention. In response to the U.S. declaring sanctions, Dmitry Rogozin (then-deputy Prime Minister to Dmitry Medvedev) chimed in on Twitter to mock the U.S. and NASA.
“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 wrote. Musk responded shortly thereafter, tweeting: “Sounds like this might be a good time to unveil the new Dragon Mk 2 spaceship that @SpaceX has been working on w @NASA. No trampoline needed.”
Oh, how history repeats itself! On March 3rd, shortly after President Biden announced new sanctions against Russia, Rogozin took to state television to say that Roscosmos was halting the sale of rocket engines to the U.S. “In a situation like this, we can’t supply the United States with our world’s best rocket engines,” he said. “Let them fly on something else, their broomsticks, I don’t know what.”
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson responded to The Associated Press, stressing that cooperation between NASA and Roscosmos’ was not in jeopardy, regardless of Rogozin’s statements. “That’s just Dmitry Rogozin. He spouts off every now and then. But at the end of the day, he’s worked with us,” he said. “The other people that work in the Russian civilian space