US-Russian Tensions Spill Over Into Space
Image: A view of the shuttle's payload bay wi
July 15, 2011 --
The final space shuttle mission (STS-135) to the International Space Station (ISS) continues. Supplies have been delivered by shuttle Atlantis and the final "shuttle era" spacewalk has been successfully completed. Here are a selection of photographs from the busy ISS since Atlantis docked with the orbital outpost on July 10.
While Atlantis was docked to the space station, a member of the STS-135 crew snapped this picture of some of the islands in the Bahamas, off the coast of the Florida peninsula (right). Miami can be seen toward the top right of the photograph. Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center are located out of shot in the bottom right of the photo.
Welcomed... Fruit? Shortly after docking with the space station, the Atlantis crew (including STS-135 pilot Doug Hurley, left) gave the resident space station crew supplies of fresh food. With a smile, Expedition 28 flight engineer Mike Fossum (right) receives a bag of fruit.
While aboard the space station, the STS-135 crew are working on many tasks during their short stay. STS-135 commander Chris Ferguson (right) can be seen here working with Japanese astronaut and Expedition 28 flight engineer Satoshi Furukawa in the Quest airlock inspecting space suits assigned to NASA astronauts Mike Fossum and Ron Garan prior to the July 12 spacewalk.
Say "Cheese"! During the six and a half hour spacewalk to retrieve a failed ammonia pump module from an external storage platform and install a robotic refueling demonstration apparatus, NASA astronaut Mike Fossum takes a picture while Atlantis is docked behind him. Fossum can be seen restrained on the end of the space station remote manipulator system (Canadarm2).
Mike Fossum points at the camera as he waits at an International Space Station pressurized mating adapter (PMA-2) docked to the space shuttle Atlantis, as the station's robotic system moves the failed ammonia pump module (out of frame) over to the spacewalking astronaut and the shuttle's cargo bay.
Robotic Assistance Mike Fossum, while attached to Canadarm2, holds the Robotics Refueling Mission payload -- one of the main tasks to be carried out during the spacewalk. The failed pump module can be seen with the two-armed robot, Dextre, on left side of the photo.
Shuttle Stowage With his feet secured to Canadarm2, NASA astronaut Ron Garan carries the failed ammonia pump module toward shuttle Atlantis' open payload bay. When Atlantis returns to Earth on July 21, engineers will study the module to see how it failed and how the problem can be avoided in the future.
In addition to installing/removing space station hardware, STS-135 delivered up to a years-worth of supplies. STS-135 mission specialist Sandy Magnus can be seen here floating inside the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module that Atlantis carried to the space station. Magnus is surrounded by the supplies for consumption of the space station residents for the months ahead.
A Picnic, Shuttle Style Seven astronauts -- six from NASA and one from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) -- and three Russian cosmonauts participate in a special meal on the Space Shuttle Atlantis' middeck on July 14. The STS-135 crew consists of NASA astronauts Chris Ferguson, Doug Hurley, Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim; the Expedition 28 or station crew members are JAXA astronaut Satoshi Furukawa, NASA astronauts Ron Garan and Mike Fossum, and Russian cosmonauts Andrey Borisenko, Alexander Samokutyaev and Sergei Volkov. All photographs can be found in NASA's Human Spaceflight Gallery.
The space partnership between the United States and Russia, which dates back to the early 1990s with an astronaut-cosmonaut exchange program, so far has remained outside the political rancor and economic ramifications stemming from Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula earlier this year.
But the escalating tensions now threaten the future of the International Space Station, or ISS, a 15-nation research laboratory overseen by the United States and Russia. Rotating crews of NASA astronauts and Russian cosmonauts, along with members of the European, Canadian and Japanese astronaut corps, have lived together aboard the orbital outpost since November 2000. Construction, however, was finished just three years ago.
With science operations finally in full swing, the Obama Administration last year confirmed NASA’s plan to keep the station in orbit until at least 2024, four years longer than original projections.
Russia, however, now has other ideas.
“Roscosmos doesn’t plan to continue cooperation with the US on the ISS after 2020,” Dmitry Rogozin, a Russian deputy prime minister who oversees the country’s space and defense programs, wrote on Twitter.
“We are very concerned about continuing to develop high-tech projects with such an unreliable partner as the United States, which politicizes everything,” Rogozin added during a press conference on Tuesday.
Presumably stoking Rogozin’s ire was the United States’ decision to deny export licenses for some high-tech items.
“We’ve repeatedly warned our colleagues at the political and professional levels … that sanctions are always a boomerang. They always come back around and are simply inappropriate in such sensitive spheres as cooperation in space exploration, production of spacecraft engines and navigation, not to mention manned space flights. Sanctions are like releasing a bull in a china shop,” Rogozin said.
A translated transcript of the news briefing was posted on the Russian government’s website.
Rogozin, who is among 11 individuals being sanctioned by the United States to punish Russia for its takeover of Crimea, also said Russia no longer will provide rocket engines for U.S. launchers that fly U.S. military payloads. That’s a direct hit at United Launch Alliance, a Boeing-Lockheed Martin partnership, which uses the Russian-made RD-180 engine in its Atlas 5 rocket, one of two rockets it sells that have a lock on flying most of the U.S. military’s spacecraft.
Rival Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, is suing to break the United Launch Alliance monopoly and raised the prospect that the sale of the RD-180 engines personally benefits Rogozin and therefore may be in violation of U.S. sanctions.
A judge in the case issued a temporary injunction on the RD-180 sales, but lifted it last week after officials with the U.S. departments of State and Treasury weighed in with letters saying they were not aware of any direct benefit to Rogozin from the engines’ sales.
The court has not yet ruled on the larger issue raised by SpaceX’s protest.
Meanwhile NASA said that it has not received any official notification from Russia of any changes in its joint space programs.
“Space cooperation has been a hallmark of US-Russia relations, including during the height of the Cold War, and most notably, in the past 13 consecutive years of continuous human presence on board the International Space Station. Ongoing operations on the ISS continue on a normal basis,” NASA said in a statement.
“We agreed from the very start that (the ongoing International Space Station) cooperation will remain unchanged, and therefore its is immune to sanctions,” Oleg Ostapenko, head of the Russian federal space agency, said at the news conference, the transcript shows.
Added Rogozin, “Our U.S. colleagues have told us that they would like to extend the ISS’ operation deadline until 2024. But the Russian Federal Space Agency and our colleagues, including the Academy of Sciences and the Russian Foundation for Advanced Research Projects are now ready to make some new long-term strategic proposals linked with the subsequent development of the Russian space program after 2020. We plan to use the ISS exactly up to 2020.”
United Launch Alliance said it has enough RD-180 engines in inventory to meet its launch needs for the next two years.