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This article was published on March 8, 2022

The war in Ukraine is having major consequences in space

The end of extraterrestrial cooperation?

The war in Ukraine is having major consequences in space

The repercussions of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have already spread to space.

The International Space Station (ISS) has been at the forefront of the extraterrestrial fallout.

Dmitry Rogozin, the controversial head of Russian space agency Roscomos, warned last week that sanctions threatened the very existence of the lab:

If you block cooperation with us, who will save the ISS from an uncontrolled deorbit and fall into the United States or Europe? There is also the option of dropping a 500-ton structure to India and China. Do you want to threaten them with such a prospect? The ISS does not fly over Russia, so all the risks are yours.

His ominous rebuke brought attention to Russia’s crucial role in the project.

The country controls a propulsion system that keeps the ISS in orbit. Without it, the satellite could slowly fall toward the atmosphere.

Rogozin may be making idle threats, but there are growing fears that the ISS now faces an early end.

This is merely one way that the war has touched outer space.

The bright sun greets the International Space Station in this Nov. 22 scene from the Russian section of the orbital outpost.
There are currently four Americans, two Russians, and one German onboard the ISS. Image: NASA

Russia has also decided to stop supplying rocket engines to the US. The move will end a partnership that’s lasted for decades.

“Let them fly on something else, their broomsticks, I don’t know what,” Rogozin said last week.

In further retaliation for sanctions, Moscow has halted cooperation with Europe on launches from a spaceport in French Guiana, ended joint experiments with Germany on the ISIS, and excluded the US from a joint mission to Venus.

Roscosmos has also lost one of its biggest commercial clients: the satellite company OneWeb. 

The British firm has suspended future launches from Russia’s cosmodrome in Kazakhstan after dismissing an ultimatum to cut ties with the UK government.

The Rosalind Franklin rover
The conflict is also expected to delay the launch of Europe’s first Mars rover. Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

These problems pale when compared to the human tragedies unfolding in Ukraine. Yet they show that the fragility of our interconnected world expands beyond Earth.

Ultimately, the biggest victim will likely be Russia’s commercial space sector. After rivaling NASA during the Soviet era and then entering an age of cooperation, the industry faces an uncertain future.

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