April 2, 2022

Roscosmos to End ISS Cooperation

Russia's announcement is perhaps the final word that Roscosmos will end its International Space Station partnership.

The International Space Station will survive thanks to the reboosting capabilities of SpaceX & Northrop Grumman.

But Russia will end up with zero manned space program except perhaps occasional Soyuz flights to nowhere or being a junior partner with China. Soyuz would have difficulty reaching the Chinese space station, ruling out such a partnership unless cosmonauts ride as passengers in Chinese spacecraft.

A sad end, especially for Russian kids and scientists.

Successfully removing Russian modules from ISS may be highly difficult or impossible, and Russia may not have the resources to keep them functional. 

Everyone hopes the ending of the partnership will be smooth, peaceful and cooperative. However, NASA's due diligence must include being alert and prepared to rapidly respond in case the latest Russian cosmonauts or crew remotely from the ground might disable the Russian modules, sabotage equipment or attempt to disconnect their modules.

A hopeful example was set on March 29 when departing Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov transferred command of ISS to U.S. astronaut Thomas Marshburn. Shkaplerov said, "People have problem on Earth. On orbit we are one crew, and I think ISS is like a symbol of the friendship and cooperation, and a symbol of the future of exploration of space." Further, the Russian crew allowed NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei to return as scheduled on the Soyuz.

Because ISS can continue to be reboosted by American spacecraft, Russia gains no revenge, but only costs their country their manned space program. 

Sadly for the Russian people, the future of Russian manned spaceflight will now be in jeopardy. Roscosmos may do occasional Soyuz flights to nowhere, to maintain the pretense and avoid a giant talent drain. Russia could become a junior partner on their space station, however because Soyuz cannot reach the orbit of China's space station, cosmonauts would always ride as passengers on Chinese spacecraft. Perhaps cooler heads will prevail.

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