Roscosmos has had quite the run of bad luck lately. In addition to sanctions putting pressure on their space program and the cancellation of agreements (all due to the war in Ukraine), the Russian space agency has experienced several problems in space. On December 14th, 2022, and February 11th, 2023, two space capsules reportedly suffered radiator coolant leaks (Soyuz MS-22 and Progress 82). In addition to delivering fresh supplies to the International Space Station (ISS), one of the spacecraft (M-22) was slated to bring three members of Expedition 68 back to Earth.
Luckily, on February 25th, Russia announced it was sending another Soyuz capsule to replace the M-22 (Soyuz M-23) and retrieve the three crew members, cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin, and astronaut Frank Rubio (who will return to Earth now on September 27th). In addition, Tuesday, March 28th, Russia undocked the M-22 from the ISS and successfully brought it home without crew. NASA provided live coverage of the undocking and departure of the uncrewed spacecraft via NASA TV, the agency website, and the NASA app.
In February 2022, Russian military forces invaded Ukraine as part of what President Vladimir Putin described as a “limited military operation.” This operation quickly turned into a protracted war now in its second year. For Russia, the response from the international community has been anything but favorable, consisting of sanctions, embargoes, and the termination of programs. This has been especially true for Roscosmos, which has had several cooperative agreements canceled and terminated its participation in the International Space Station (ISS).
On March 7th, 2023, Kazakhstan seized control of the Biaterek launch complex at the Baikonur Cosmodrome – Russia’s main launch site since 1955. According to statements by KZ24 News and The Moscow Times, the Kakazh government has impounded Russian assets at the Center for Utilization of Ground-based Space Infrastructure (TsENKI), a subsidiary of Roscosmos. It is also preventing Russian officials from leaving the country or liquidating Roscosmos assets. This incident is another example of how Russia’s space program is suffering collateral damage from the war in Ukraine.
The crew of the International Space Station can now breathe a little easier. An uncrewed replacement Soyuz docked safely to the station, meaning NASA astronaut Frank Rubio and Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin can make it back home to Earth.
The new Soyuz MS-23 will replace MS-22, which suffered a serious radiator coolant leak on December 14, 2022. After much deliberation, Russian controllers decided that it would be safer to send a replacement Soyuz to the ISS rather than risk the crew returning in a spacecraft without coolant.
Roscosmos appears to be having some issues with a spacecraft again. In December, the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft that delivered three crewmembers of Expedition 68 to the International Space Station (ISS) reported a leak in its coolant loop. On February 11th, engineers at the Russian Mission Control Center outside Moscow recorded a depressurization in Progress 82, an uncrewed cargo craft docked with the Poisk laboratory module. The cause of these leaks remains unknown, but Roscosmos engineers (with support from their NASA counterparts) will continue investigating.
According to Russia’s news agency Tass, leaders at Roscosmos have decided to withdraw from the International Space Station (ISS) after 2024. The report said that by that time, “all obligations to partners will be fulfilled.” Additionally, Russia said they want to build their own space station.
According to a recent report by Euronews, the controversial head of Roscosmos (Dmitri Rogozin) has been dismissed from his position. For those associated with space exploration and the global space industry, Rogozin is something of a household name. Since 2018, he has led Russia’s space program and established a reputation for inflammatory statements and anti-Western bluster, especially where Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, U.S., and European sanctions are concerned. His dismissal was part of a reshuffle ordered on Friday, July 15th, by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
When Russia sent its armed forces into Ukraine amidst accusations of Nazism and NATO aggression, it left most of its credibility behind. What’s left of its credibility is in shreds as Russia lurches towards pariah status. That’s what happens when you unleash your military on your peaceful neighbour and when the body count grows alongside the rubble piles that used to be Ukrainian cities.
Now Russia seems to be “threatening” to end its participation in the ISS over economic sanctions the world has imposed on them. Will they end their involvement in the ISS? Does anybody care anymore? Does anybody want them to stay? Will we see a line-up of diplomats asking them to reconsider.
After much speculation and concern the past month whether Russia would allow a US astronaut to ride back to Earth in a Soyuz spacecraft, Mark Vande Hei and two cosmonauts landed safely in Kazakhstan on March 30.
Mostly lost amid the political tensions due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Vande Hei quietly set a record for the longest single spaceflight by an American, at 355 days. Vande Hei eclipsed astronaut Scott Kelly’s seemingly more heralded long-duration mission on the International Space Station in 2015, when he and Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko spent 340 days in space. Cosmonaut Pyotr Dubrov also spent 355 days on his first spaceflight, along with Vande Hei.
About a month ago, Russian forces invaded Ukraine, placing NATO on high alert and creating a shock wave felt around the world. One place that has been particularly resilient to the effects of this conflict is the International Space Station (ISS). Even as tensions mount and the heads of space agencies engage in an online war of words, astronauts and cosmonauts continue to work and live together in orbit.
On the other hand, there have been some clear attempts to drag the ISS into political turmoil. Case in point: the recent photo that shows three Russian cosmonauts wearing bright yellow and blue jumpsuits, the colors of the Ukrainian flag! Depending on who you ask, this was either a display of unity with the people of Ukraine or just a coincidence. Opinions vary, but this was likely nothing more than oddly fortuitous.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been dominating the news cycle lately. Amid tragic stories about rocket strikes, stalled offensives, and possible motives and outcomes, there’s been an ongoing “war of words” on social media. In particular, Dmitry Rogozin, the Director-General of the Russian State Space Corporation (Roscosmos), has been issuing thinly-veiled threats that Russia might be terminating its cooperation in space.
This included a video posted on Telegram by the state-controlled Russian news agency RIA Novosti that shows the Russian modules detaching from the International Space Station (ISS). In response to all the threats and hyperbole, NASA decided to host an FAQ session where they posted commonly-asked questions about the ISS. In what is eerily reminiscent of what happened in 2014, NASA let the world know that the ISS is still going strong and won’t be decommissioned anytime soon!