European Space Agency issues update on Russia’s involvement in ISS and Mars missions

Jon Kelvey
Saturday 26 February 2022 09:08 GMT
NASA Announces Plan For Decommissioning the International Space Space Station
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The European Space Agency has said it is ready to “take decisions” about its cooperation with Russia on space projects, in a new statement.

The space agency will continue to support those joint missions – which include the International Space Station and the exploration of Mars – for now, said Josef Aschbacher, its director general.

But he noted the increasing aggression in Ukraine and suggested that support could come to an end if the situation continues to deteriorate.

“I am sad and worried as the aggression continues to worsen in Ukraine,” he wrote. “With ESA Member States, we will take any decisions needed.

“But for now, support for our missions & colleagues continues until further notice.”

Those missions include the ISS and the ExoMars rover mission, which is expected to launch for the Red Planet in September.

Mr Aschbacher’s statement is a departure from ESA’s official stance on Thursday, when the space agency said it would continue to cooperate with Russia in all shared space missions. Mr Aschbacher had reiterated that spirit of cooperation in a post to Twitter just hours before issuing the new statement Friday morning.

“Notwithstanding the current conflict, civil space cooperation remains a bridge,” he wrote in the earlier post.

The changing thinking at ESA reflects the rapidly change situation in Ukraine. A Russian invasion that began Thursday with air strikes and armored units crossing the border into Ukraine had reached Kyiv by Friday morning, with reports of Russian tanks and gunfire in the Ukranian Capital.

US President Joe Biden respond Russia’s continued aggression Thursday afternoon by announcing new sanctions designed to disrupt Russian high-technology imports.

“It’ll degrade their aerospace industry, including their space programme,” the US president said at the time.

Despite the new sanctions, Nasa reiterated Friday that the US space agency will continue cooperating with Russia both on the International Space Station and on the ground.

“The new export control measures will continue to allow U.S.-Russia civil space cooperation,” a spokesperson said. “No changes are planned to the agency’s support for ongoing in orbit and ground station operations.”

A total of seven astronauts and cosmonauts from Nasa, ESA and the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, currently inhabit the ISS, where on Thursday they were preparing for spacewalks and biological and physics experiments, according to a Nasa blog post. Russia has been a partner in the ISS since 1993.

Three Russian cosmonauts currently training at Nasa’s John Space Center will continue to do so, according to the space agency, while a Russian Soyuz spacecraft is still expected to return Nasa astronaut Mark Vande Hai home from the ISS on 30 March.

While ESA and Nasa official remained restrained in their statements about cooperating with Russia during the war in Ukraine, Roscosmos director Dmitry Rogozin took to Twitter to denounce US-led sanctions describe how he sees an ISS without Russian cooperation, suggesting the ISS could fall out of orbit without Russian help.

Both Mr Rogozin and Russian President Vladimir Putin have hinted that Russia might pull out of the ISS in the past.

But despite Mr Rogozin’s comments and Mr Ascbacher’s statement, ESA still sees the ISS as an opportunity for cooperation and findign peace, according to the extended statement Mr Aschbacher linked to in a post on Twitter.

“One of the strengths that space cooperation has demonstrated in the past is the resilience of the partners to overcome geopolitical crises and maintain, as is the case on board the International Space Station, a place of joint research for peaceful purposes for the benefit of all,” the statement reads.

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