The Best Laid Plans, Moscow Edition: Ukraine Invasion Damages Russia’s Launch Business

Soyuz-2 rocket launches a military satellite from Plesetsk Cosmodrome. (Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Ambitious launch schedules typically go awry when a rocket suffers a catastrophic failure that takes months to investigate and implement modifications to ensure the same accident doesn’t happen again. In the majority of cases, the failures involve a machine launching a machine. All that can be replaced, albeit at substantial cost.

Russia’s ambitious launch plans for 2022 fell apart due to a far more momentous and deadly action: the nation’s invasion of Ukraine. The decision ruptured cooperation with the West on virtually every space project on which it was safe to do so. The main exception was the International Space Station (ISS), a program involving astronauts and cosmonauts that would be difficult to operate safely if Russia suddenly withdrew (as it indeed threatened to do).

Due to the invasion, Western partners canceled seven launches of foreign payloads in less than a month. The cancellations put Russia even further behind the United States and China in launch totals this year.

(more…)

The Best Laid Plans: Europe’s Ambitious Launch Year Goes Awry Due to International Tensions, Schedule Delays

The James Webb Space Telescope lifted off on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, at 13:20 CET on 25 December 2021 on its exciting mission to unlock the secrets of the Universe. (Credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

On Christmas Day 2021, an European Ariane 5 rocket roared off its launch pad in French Guiana with the most expensive payload the booster had ever carried, the $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope. The launcher performed perfectly, sending the most powerful space telescope on a journey to its final destination 1.5 million km (900 million miles) from Earth. The launch was so accurate that Webb should have sufficient propellant to perform science operations for much longer than its planned 10-year lifetime.

There was a collective sigh of relief among the European, American and Canadian scientists and engineers involved in the long-delayed program. It was a superb Christmas gift to a world suffering through the second year of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.

(more…)

Commercial Space Travelers Outnumbered Professional Astronauts in First Half of 2022

Axiom Mission 1 astronauts, left to right, Larry Connor, Mark Pathy, Michael López-Alegría, and Eytan Stibbe. The astronauts are approved by NASA and its international partners for Axiom Space’s first private astronaut mission to the International Space Station. (Credits: Chris Gunn – Axiom Space)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The first half of 2022 saw more commercial travelers — 16 — launch into space than the 10 professional astronauts who work for government-run space agencies. However, those numbers come with an asterisk or two.

Four of the 14 astronauts who launched into orbit flew on Axiom Space’s privately funded and operated crew flight to the International Space Station (ISS). Blue Origin launched 12 individuals into space on two flights of the company’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle.

The other 10 astronauts who launched to ISS and the Tiangong space station worked fulltime for NASA, European Space Agency (ESA), China Manned Space Agency, or Russia’s Roscosmos State Space Corporation. SpaceX flew American and European astronauts to ISS on the company-owned Crew Dragon spacecraft under a NASA contract. The Russians and Chinese flew aboard government-owned and operated spacecraft.

(more…)

Roscosmos Boss Dmitry Rogozin Calls for Wiping Out Ukraine

Twitter’s content moderation efforts seemed to have spiraled downward. Major Russian government officials somehow keep their accounts while advocating the genocide of a nation of 44 million people.

Rogozin has been rabid, foaming at the mouth for months. Ukraine did not, and does not now, pose an existential threat to Russia. The biggest threat is that it becomes a stable, parliamentary democracy and joins the European Union. It would be another example of a different path Russia could take other than the authoritarian one that Vladimir Putin, Rogozin and others have imposed on the country.

Twitter really needs to answer for this. It needs to decide whether letting people call for the genocide of an entire nation is something they want to allow.

Elon Musk, who signed an agreement to purchase Twitter for $44 billion, is an avowed free speech absolutist. He called Twitter’s decision to ban Donald Trump after the attack on the Capitol last year immoral. Is this something that he would allow? What is his view of the morality of this? How absolute is absolutism?

Here’s the one thing we can be very sure about. If Rogozin was calling for the deaths of the current Twitter CEO and his family, or Elon and his children, this tweet would not stay up for a minute. It would be taken down immediately, and Rogozin would be banned.

The time is coming, barring a significant change in the Russian government, when NASA has to decide whether it come continue to work with the Russians on the International Space Station. That day may come sooner than the 2024 date Rogozin has said Russia would likely pull out of the program.

Roscosmos CEO Rogozin Threatens Bulgaria with Nuclear Attack

Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin. (Credit: A. Savin)

Sounding more unhinged by the day, Roscosmos CEO Dmitry Rogozin threatened Bulgaria with a nuclear strike as the Russian invasion of Ukraine escalated. Novinite reports:

“This is what Sarmat is good for. It will not ask for consent for the flight from the cowardly Bulgarians, the vicious Romanians and the Montenegrins who betrayed our common history. Like the other various nations like the Swedes.”

This was written on Twitter by the former Deputy Prime Minister of Russia and CEO of Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin on the occasion of Bulgaria’s refusal to provide an air corridor for a government plane to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The RS-28 Sarmat, better known as “Satan II”, is a super-heavy intercontinental ballistic missile for carrying nuclear warheads. Its range is 18,000 kilometers.

This is the first direct threat made by the Russian authorities to Bulgaria since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

(more…)

PBS News Hour Report on the Future of the International Space Station

Video Caption: NASA is aiming to expand its astronaut launches from U.S. soil. Boeing is set for a test launch this week of its small spacecraft to the International Space Station. Russia and America have long been partners on the space station, but the invasion of Ukraine has led to new tensions and questions about the future. Miles O’Brien has our report about the rhetoric versus the reality.

Maritime Launch Services Debuts on NEO Stock Exchange, But Will They Have a Rocket to Fly?

Cyclone 4M

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Maritime Launch Services has debuted on the NEO Exchange, become the latest space company to go public on a stock exchange without any revenues (losses, actually) while avoiding the “rigmarole” (Richard Branson’s words, not mine) associated with a traditional initial public offering (IPO).

In addition to a lack of revenues and a crowded launcher market, there’s another question hanging over the company that nobody can answer right now: exactly what are they going to launch from the spaceport they’re building in Nova Scotia? The Cyclone 4M booster they plan to use is built in Ukraine, which has been invaded by Russia.

(more…)

SpaceX’s Ability to Thwart Russian Jamming of Starlink Called “Eye Watering”

Starlink Premium antenna. (Credit: SpaceX)

Popular Mechanics reports that the Pentagon is studying how SpaceX was able to quickly thwart attempts to jam Starlink satellite broadband receivers the company sent to Ukraine to help the nation defend itself against a Russian invasion.

The U.S. Department of Defense is casting envious eyes on Elon Musk’s SpaceX after the aerospace company swiftly responded to an “electronic warfare attack” in Ukraine last month. SpaceX donated Starlink terminals to Ukraine to help the country stay connected in wartime, but Russian signal-jamming attempted to thwart those plans. The notoriously bureaucratic Pentagon says it’s a model for responding to threats that it can’t currently match—but desperately needs to…..

According to SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk, some Starlink terminals near the front line in Ukraine were experiencing jamming, presumably from Russian military electronic warfare units. Musk later tweeted that the company quickly “reprioritized to cyber defense & overcoming signal jamming,” and issued a fix within a day, broadcast to all Starlink terminals. The fix reportedly involved changing a single line of software code.

A one-day turnaround for software fixes is par for the course for commercial businesses, especially startups, but not for the government. Dave Tremper, director of electronic warfare for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, told attendees at an industry conference that SpaceX’s handling of Russian jamming in Ukraine was “eye-watering.”

SpaceX has sent 5,000 Starlink terminals to Ukraine, including 3,667 donated by SpaceX and 1,333 purchased by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Roscosmos Plans Cooperation on Chinese Space Station, Prepares to Dump GPS in Russian Airliners and Ship New ICBMs

Roscosmos boss Dmitry Rogozin meets with Russia’s boss of bosses, President Vladimir Putin. (Credit: Russian President’s Office)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Vowing that cooperation in space with the West will resume on Russia’s terms, Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin said the space corporation is eyeing cooperation on China’s space station and begun efforts to replace the American Global Positioning System (GPS) in airplanes with Russian GLONASS satellite navigation system that is also capable of receiving navigation signals from China’s Beidou satellite constellation.

Rogozin also said Roscosmos plans to begin shipments of silo-based hypersonic Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in the fall amid continued tensions with the West over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The rocket was successfully test fired on Wednesday.

(more…)

Putin Celebrates Gagarin Flight Anniversary, Vows Russia will Remain a Leader in Space Amid Sanctions

Vladimir Putin receives a briefing from Roscosmos General Director Dmitry Rogozin before the COVID-19 pandemic. (Credit: Office of the Russian President)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

On Tuesday, Russia celebrated the 61st anniversary of the Soviet Union’s launch of the first human into space, Yuri Gagarin, with a presidential visit to a scandal-plagued spaceport, a pledge to stay the course in the face of international sanctions over the Ukraine invasion, and an initiative to fly a citizen of one of the nation’s closest allies into space.

“Everything that we’ve seen during our visit to Vostochny, all successes in space exploration achieved in recent years prove that our country retains its leadership in space industry, is one of the leaders in this area,” President Vladimir Putin said during a visit to the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East.

(more…)

USAID Delivered 5,000 Starlink Terminals to Ukraine

Starlink Premium antenna. (Credit: SpaceX)

WASHINGTON (USAID PR) — The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has delivered 5,000 Starlink Terminals to the Government of Ukraine through a public-private partnership with the American aerospace manufacturer, SpaceX.

(more…)

ESA Ends Cooperation with Russia on 3 Lunar Missions, Deepens Cooperation with U.S. & Japan

PARIS (ESA PR) — Following the Russian aggression against Ukraine, ESA’s Director General has initiated a comprehensive review of all activities currently undertaken in cooperation with Russia and Ukraine. The objective is to determine the possible consequences of this new geopolitical context for ESA programmes and activities and to create a more resilient and robust space infrastructure for Europe.

The ESA Council on 13 April acknowledged the following findings and took the following decisions.

(more…)

Rogozin Courts Chinese Cooperation on ExoMars, Space Station

Vladimir Putin receives a briefing from Roscosmos General Director Dmitry Rogozin. (Credit: Office of the Russian President)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Chinese government-owned CGTN website has an interview with Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin. With relations severely damaged with the West due to sanctions imposed over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Roscosmos is increasingly focused on deepening cooperation with China’s surging space program. The partnership already includes jointly developing a crewed base on the moon in the 2030s.

On the suspended ExoMars mission with Europe, Rogozin said:

“In the construction of ExoMars, the main element is the landing module. The Mars research rover is not the essential element. I think we can make this mission happen with another partner like China or someone else.”

(more…)

Rogozin on ISS: ‘We’re Outta Here — Details to Follow’

Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin. (Credit: A. Savin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin said Russia will suspend cooperation on the International Space Station (ISS) with its U.S., Canadian, European and Japanese partners due to sanctions imposed over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. How and when was left unspecified.

The announcement throws the future of the decades-old ISS program into uncertainty. Roscosmos and NASA are the two lead agencies in the partnership. Russia launches crews and resupply ships to the station. Its vehicles also boost the station to higher altitudes to counteract the decay in its orbit.

NASA officials have said it would be difficult, not to mention expensive, to keep the station operating without Russian involvement.

Rogozin had given NASA, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the European Space Agency (ESA) until March 31 to lift sweeping sanctions imposed over the invasion. The United States and Canada have imposed sanctions; ESA is abiding by sanctions imposed by its member states.

Rogozin said cooperation won’t resume until sanctions are ended. He tweeted copies of letters Roscosmos received from its partners. NASA and CSA said they would continue cooperating with Russia on the space station. ESA’s letter said the space agency passed the request on to member nations.

Rogozin said Roscosmos would soon provide details of the nation’s withdrawal from the program.

NASA and its partners have been working toward extending ISS operations from 2026 to 2030. Whether that will be possible in unclear.

Ariane 6, Vega-C, Microlaunchers: ESA Looks to Full Range of Launch Options for European Institutional Missions

Artist’s view of Ariane 6 and Vega-C. (Credit: ESA – D. Ducros)

PARIS (ESA PR) — ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher today underscored the Agency’s determination to ensure that ESA’s work in space is not derailed by the tragic events in Ukraine. Mr Aschbacher stresses that work continues to assess the impact on each ongoing programme, including on missions affected by Roscosmos’ withdrawal of Soyuz launch operations from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.

In addition, ESA is preparing proposals that, if endorsed by its Member States, will further support European microlauncher services to complement the Ariane and Vega programmes, which form the backbone of Europe’s space transportation capability.

(more…)