March 11, 2022

Protecting the International Space Station

A tragic casualty of the Russian war on Ukraine may be international cooperation with Russia on existing and future space projects. None are of course more important than the International Space Station (ISS), where Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, has at least threatened to destroy the station.

In advance of the war, Save Manned Space warned members of Congress to get briefed by NASA on contingency plans to assure continuity of operations in the event of a Russian withdrawal, and to take legislative action giving NASA the funding and authorization to build a propulsion module and other systems so ISS may continue in service until 2030 or beyond.

Both the new Cygnus and Dragon can offer reboosting services, and it is therefore likely that ISS can safely continue operations at least until a US propulsion module, perhaps based on Cygnus, could be launched.

Curiously, while Roscosmos could depart ISS and either remove or disable their Svezda propulsion module, ISS would survive perhaps until the scheduled retirement in 2031. The only difference would be while ISS would still do important science and advance long duration spaceflight, Russia would have essentially zero crewed space program and would be forced to be a very junior partner with China. 

One positive sign is that, at present, astronaut Mark Vande Hei, who will soon reach 355 days on ISS, is still scheduled to return to earth as planned on Soyuz.

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