Ukraine crisis in space: America takes on the Russians - over the International Space Station

A joint enterprise since the 1990s, the $150bn international research laboratory is still physically divided along Cold War lines

Even during the paranoia and antagonism of the Cold War, the United States and Russia managed to find common cause in space. In July 1975, both countries celebrated the first joint space flight, as Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft docked in orbit, astronauts and cosmonauts smiling for the cameras as they shook hands through the air lock.

But now the spirit of co-operation appears to have died, with the International Space Station – the $150bn (£89bn) international research laboratory that is still physically divided along Cold War lines – becoming the rope in a tug-of-war between American and Russian politicians.

The dispute began in April, when a leaked Nasa memo revealed that the agency would be suspending all contact with the Russian government because of the country's "ongoing violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity".

Although the involvement of the US government was not explicit, the space agency's decision was widely assumed to have involved the White House and State Department. Subsequent export restrictions – more specifically, "high technology defence articles or services" – confirmed the US's intent to punish Russia's struggling space industry.

However, there's one area where the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, remains king: transport.

After the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011, the US was entirely reliant on Russian rockets – specifically Soyuz rockets, descendants of those used in the 1975 mission – to get its astronauts to and from the space station.

Last week, Russia's Deputy Prime Minister, Dmitry Rogozin, said that Moscow was "very concerned about continuing to develop hi-tech projects with such an unreliable partner as the United States", and declared that the country would reject US plans to use the ISS beyond the station's planned "retirement" in 2020.

Mr Rogozin later softened Moscow's stance slightly, saying that the Russians understood that the ISS was "fragile in the literal and figurative sense", and that it would "act very pragmatically and not put obstacles in the way of work on the ISS". But, for America, the incident has highlighted the dependency of its current aerospace programmes.

In addition to paying Russia $71m for the privilege of sending a single astronaut to the ISS, the Pentagon relies solely on Russian-made RD-180 rockets for its launches and the country's current stockpiles – enough for two years – will not be of use if Roscosmos continues to sell engines under the new restrictions: "That they will not be used to launch military satellites."

James Oberg, a former rocket engineer and author of Star-Crossed Orbits, a book about the two country's joint history in space, said that the latest exchange of words marked the end of their "partnership of reluctant co-dependence" and the beginning of a new era for the industry.

"This represents a shift in space operations that has long been gathering force," he said. "We're moving from the Cern model, where everyone builds one thing together, to the Antarctic model, where everyone has their own programme."

Mr Oberg said that the falling entry cost for space launches has encouraged not only new projects from countries such as China and India, but the birth of a new commercial sector, with three main players developing the capacity to deliver crews into orbit. There are long-time US defence contractors Boeing and Sierra Nevada, but also SpaceX, the ambitious start-up created by Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of PayPal.

The Russian threats could prove positive for Nasa as well as the private sector. The agency's chief executive, Charles Bolden, used the threat of limited launches as both stick and carrot to force Congress to accept Barack Obama's proposed $17.5bn budget for 2015, including $848m for the agency's "Commercial Crew" programme. "The choice moving forward is between fully funding the President's request to bring space launches back to American soil or continuing to send millions to the Russians," wrote Mr Bolden in a blog post at the end of March. "It's that simple."

"What Mr Rogozin is doing is strengthening Nasa's hand to accelerate existing programmes for full autonomy," added Mr Oberg. "And when they arrive – the really far-sighted Russians have been telling me – in the next three to five years, the last segment of the space industry where Russia has a powerful role will be closed off to them. They'll be irrelevant."

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
filmDirector said film would 'never have been financed' with ethnic minority actors in key roles
News
people
Sport
footballArsenal 2 Borussia Dortmund 0: And they can still top the group
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
film
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
News
Albert Camus (left) and Jean-Paul Sartre fell out in 1952 and did not speak again before Camus’s death
people
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
Arts and Entertainment
'Felfie' (2014) by Alison Jackson
photographyNew exhibition shows how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
News
i100
Life and Style
Fright night: the board game dates back to at least 1890
life
Environment
The vaquita is being killed by fishermen trying to catch the totoaba fish, which is prized in China
environmentJust 97 of the 'world's cutest' sea mammals remain
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: BID Manager

£35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With more than half the world's populati...

Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - CIPD - Buxton

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - CIPD - Buxton A highly...

Ampersand Consulting LLP: Server Engineer/ Systems Engineer (Windows Server, Networking)

£23000 - £27000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Server Enginee...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Head of Regional Sales - Financial Software - £130,000 OTE

Negotiable: h2 Recruit Ltd: A rapidly expanding, global Software/ SaaS Vendor ...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?