Ukraine and Russia takes the war to Space
After Ukraine, Russia takes the war to Space as Putin isn’t stopping anywhere. The Russian Space Corporation, Roscosmos, is expected to stay on the ISS for another few years but the future of the corporation is still unclear. Last week, Russia’s Roscosmos made an unexpected announcement of withdrawing from the International Space Station in almost two years.
The announcement came out as a shock to the world and is being viewed as the termination of international cooperation and would have a significant impact on the station’s life as it will eventually have to be de-orbited, piece by piece. The agency assured that it will honor all the obligations it has with its partners but the decision to withdraw from the station after 2024 has been finalized.
Even after the announcement, it is still vivid how serious Yuri Borisov is about quitting the station that is just two years away. Later last week, he clarified that Russia will back out from the space station after the Roscosmos will begin launching its modules for the new space station, which is expected somewhere around 2028. Yuri’s comments sound much alike his predecessor, Dmitry Rogozin’s comments about leaving the platform when Russia was battered with international sanctions if they continue to go ahead with invading Ukraine – yet Roscosmos did not go through with leaving the station which is jointly run by Russian space agencies, the US, Europe, Canada, and Japan.
Consequences for Russia
The move could be seen as Yuri’s loyalty to the comments of Putin, the person whose comments matter. As an attempt to show that he is just as tough as Rogozin. Many experts view the Russian actions are speaking louder than just words. There can be serious consequences for Russia if Roscosmos abruptly leave the ISS station. The move will cause Russia to give up on the human spaceflight program as well. Keeping in view Putin’s stance on the program, it seems highly unlikely that Russia would walk away from it.
On the contrary, Bill Nelson, NASA’s Chief has been very transparent about their plans for the ISS when comes the US space agency. He reassured NASA’s commitment towards continuing the operation through 2030, assuming that Russians will be around till that time. Following the Congress’s Act passed on July 28, The CHIPS and Science Act, NASA is fully authorized to continue its participation in the ISS. This will make NASA the primary customer of the new commercial space station which will be in the Earth’s low orbit. The future of the Russian space industry does not look too promising as the state pulls out resources from several space programs.
The last few years have been challenging for Roscosmos due to funding constraints and the issues in navigation with other major space players, much due to the Ukrainian War and disputes with NATO. Several sanctions are operational on Russia that has a direct impact on technology imports. Russia has lost its contracts for launch at its Baikonur Cosmodrome spaceport located in Kazakhstan.
Russian Economy after Ukraine War
Russia has completely lost its business ties with the United States, as the astronauts of NASA and its partners can travel to ISS on Boeing and SpaceX spacecraft. Earlier they were getting a ride from Soyuz Rocker. In addition to this several European Space Agencies, like the ExoMars mission, have severed their ties with Roscosmos as well.
Nothing much interesting is going on for Roscosmos at the moment other than the ISS or a replacement program called the Russian Orbital Service Station. Borisov claims that it could be developed and launched by early 2028. The timeline seems pretty overoptimistic considering the magnitude of the project. It took more than 12 years for Russia to develop the Nauka ISS module and make it operational. Russia launched it to the ISS last year.
Many experts believe that the new project won’t be up and running till the communicated time considering the financial constraints faced by Russia. Moreover, Russia’s civil space program has various quality control and operational issues, not to mention the corruption within the systems. It seems highly unlikely that they will be able to build up a space station of their own and continue the contribution to the ISS.
China’s Space Station
China on the other hand is building its space station after launching the second module, Wentian, last week. The third module, Mengtian, is scheduled to launch in October. There is no indication from the Chinese or Russians that they will be collaborating on the station which is inclined to orbits that would be difficult to reach from the Russian launch site.
Russia has however shown an agreement to jointly build the research station on the moon in the 2030s. Russia’s investment in space is mostly for military purposes and a major portion of its investment is directed toward that side. It has developed and deployed weapons that are against spacecraft that are a direct threat to international space security. In November 2021, Russia tested anti-satellite missiles, along with lasers, using electronic and cyberweapons against ground and satellite systems. Chinese and US militaries are also working on similar technologies.
These technologies surfaced more evidently in the war against Ukraine. We have seen some very advanced GPS, communications, and Starlink jamming. The cyberattacks of ViaSat ground were also a part of it. But interestingly we haven’t seen as much cyber warfare from Russia as was anticipated, considering the low cost of these attacks.
Ukraine War & Commercial Satellites
In either case, such an uncertain state of affairs indicates more risks to the spacecraft and ground infrastructure and the operations they depend on. The commercial satellites also suffered that were caught in conflict in the war against Russia. Mazar and Planet are such satellites that got caught in the heat. These are satellite imaging-based companies and are based in the United States. Other companies like Capella Space were also among the affected. This company can trace and spot the movements and activities of military troops.
SpaceX and its CEO, Elon Musk, have no doubts related to intervening on the behalf of Ukraine as well as facilitating military communications with Starlink. Moreover, SpaceX is becoming more and more of a military contractor along with Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin, which are already working with NASA and Pentagon. SpaceX has secured government contracts for the launch of satellites for the military and also building its missile tracking satellites. The company is exploring a partnership with the Pentagon for space transportation of military supplies.
When satellite companies get entangled in such conflicts on the ground, it surely has its consequences in space as well. Militaries target and attack a military objective, leaving the civilians out of it. This is the law defined by the law of armed conflicts. But that won’t put a stop to the dual use of civilian spacecraft like Maxar and Starlink in addition to their infrastructure on the ground, becoming a potential target for the Russian military, especially if these are being used for military and civilian purposes in Ukraine.
Policy of the US Government
For many years the US government has benefited from forging contracts with space companies. Many satellites are on part-time contracts with the government. This makes it easier for them to use the services of these companies rather than creating or buying their fleet for it. This is a constant policy of the US government to mix the civilian functions with that of the military on some particular satellite.
That, however, is unwise considering the possible damage in such situations. Where the satellite is being used for dual use, it subjects them to more cyberattacks. Considering the current instance, Russia could easily target and legally attack a wide range of US commercial satellites if they are found being used in the ongoing conflict. Due to such structure, the conflicts on the ground are being stretched to space as well, since the Sputnik era in the aftermath of the Ukrainian war. Increasing international friction in space is stretching primarily from Russia, as of now.
Concerns regarding Anti-Satellite Weapons
Apart from Russia, the remaining countries seem to be working in harmony with each other, even in the case of China, there are concerns regarding anti-satellite weapons. But on diplomatic grounds, there aren’t as many concerns as are there in the case of Russia. Russia seems to be isolated on this front. The International Space Station has acted as a mediator in many international conflicts between nations since the 1990s. several countries collaborate and their astronauts work together that help in resolving the conflicts.
So far, Russia has shown an agreement to continue the crew swap with the US to the ISS commencing from September, this year. But when the station’s life will come to an end, whether in 2028 or 2030, the collaboration that comes with it might very well end as well.
Also Read: How huge is Chinese Economy?
Bringing nations together to a single point is a tremendous success for over two decades. The member countries have been able to complete several pieces of research and scientific experiments. The ISS will be remembered for bringing in play the diplomatic tool that has benefited in many situations.