According to several news sources which have reported that Roscosmos, the Russian Space Agency, will no longer supply the US with rockets for space programs, Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos, is also reported to have said, “Let them fly on something else, their broomsticks, I don’t know what.”
Since the conflict in Ukraine, colleagues in the International Space Station tried in the beginning to maintain a culture of collaboration. Still, the situation has become more tense in recent days, with Russia threatening to deorbit the International Space Station and Elon Musk stepping in with an offer to help.
A recent announcement by Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos, indicates a disappointing turn of events in cooperation on space projects between the US and Russia.
It is said that after many years of space collaboration between Russia and America, people who would have worked as international colleagues now find themselves expected to ramp up patriotic rhetoric for their country’s war effort. Space presents so many opportunities and threats that humanity should face together with the world.
Russia, a reliable longstanding trading partner
For more than 15 years, America has needed Russia to launch Atlas V and Antares rockets.
United Launch Alliance, the Boeing-Lockheed launch company the main contractor of NASA, has been reliant on Russian-made RD-180 engines for the Atlas V rocket. However, a ‘spokeswoman for the joint venture said that it has the necessary RD-180 engines to complete space missions on the Atlas V for current customers’. The rockets supplied by Russia have also been used for Antares rockets.
Dwindling reliance on Russian rockets
Devin Coldewey writing for TechCrunch, writes, ‘But as you may have observed over the last few years, Atlas and Antares launches — especially using engines from the ’90s — are very much the minority when it comes to launch volume and capability‘.
His opinion is that ‘the U.S. has been working on reducing its reliance on Russian hardware for quite a while now.’
Elon musk was also quick to comment on the situation:
🇺🇸🇺🇸 American Broomstick 🇺🇸🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/r2hJvFQosS— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 3, 2022
US government has many space partners to choose from
Coldewey speculates the impact on US space missions to be minimal. The United Launch Alliance (ULA), an American Spacecraft Provider in 2018, enlisted the services of Blue Origin, another American aerospace manufacturer (owned by Jeff Bezos, former Amazon CEO), to develop a replacement for the Russian RD-180. ULA says they currently have enough RD-180s to get through the transition until BE-4 engines are ready.
The BE-4 engines being developed for United Launch Alliance by Blue Origin aren’t quite ready to go yet.
Quite a few other commercial companies are operating in the Space tech sector, such as SpaceX and Rocket Lab. The US government has ‘become more comfortable with using these newer commercial launch providers for high-profile and sensitive missions.’
A contract has recently been signed between NASA and SpaceX to develop a new launch system.
Relativity Space, another US company, has developed a 3D-printed rocket. With 3D printable space tech, the US has the potential to excel exponentially.
Astra space is also another US company contending to be a low price business in the space sector with ‘fast, frequent and simple launches.’
Lack of space cooperation with Russia will have consequences
The US government has lots of options for the procurement of space tech. However, some companies that support the US in the space sector will withdraw from Russian cooperation, such as Northrop Grumman, which develops Cygnus spacecraft to support International Space Station missions. International Space Station missions could be affected ‘since they had Cygnus flights planned for the next few years that would have used RD-181s’.
‘The Cygnus spacecraft is used to carry crew supplies, spare equipment and scientific experiments to the space station. The service module incorporates advanced avionics developed by Northrop Grumman and guidance and navigation components that allow for fully autonomous rendezvous with the space station.’ Wikipedia