Russia Says They Plan to Leave International Space Station after 2024

International Space Station
The International Space Station stretches out in an image captured by astronauts aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour during a fly-around in November 2021. (NASA Photo)

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.

Continue reading “Russia Says They Plan to Leave International Space Station after 2024”

NASA Astronaut and Cosmonauts Land Safely Together in Kazakhstan

NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei is seen outside the Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft after he landed with Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on Wednesday, March 30, 2022. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

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.

Continue reading “NASA Astronaut and Cosmonauts Land Safely Together in Kazakhstan”

Three Cosmonauts Arrive at the ISS Wearing Bright Yellow Jumpsuits

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.

Continue reading “Three Cosmonauts Arrive at the ISS Wearing Bright Yellow Jumpsuits”

Russian Space Agency Employees are now Forbidden to Travel Outside Russia (Because They Might not Come Back)

The Soyuz MS-05 rocket is launched with Expedition 52 flight engineer Sergei Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos, flight engineer Randy Bresnik of NASA, and flight engineer Paolo Nespoli of ESA (European Space Agency), Friday, July 28, 2017 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

As Russia wages its terrible war against its neighbour Ukraine, the deteriorating situation inside Russia is leading many Russians to flee the collapsing economy. According to Russian journalist Kamil Galeev, Roscosmos Director Dmitry Rogozin is prohibiting Roscosmos employees from leaving the increasingly isolated nation.

Continue reading “Russian Space Agency Employees are now Forbidden to Travel Outside Russia (Because They Might not Come Back)”

Germany’s Space Agency Cancels all its Projects With Russia. They Even Turned off an Instrument on a Russian Space Telescope

This image is an artist's illustration of the Spektr-RG satellite. Germany shut down the eROSITA instrument in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Image Credit:By DLR German Aerospace Center - https://www.flickr.com/photos/dlr_de/48092069898/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=87145461

Germany is flexing its muscles.

The German government recently announced a massive increase in military spending to counter Russian military action in Europe. The German Aerospace Center (DLR) has cancelled its bilateral cooperation with Russia following that move. It looks like the Spektr-RG space telescope, a joint mission between Russia and Germany, is the first casualty of the cancelled partnership.

Continue reading “Germany’s Space Agency Cancels all its Projects With Russia. They Even Turned off an Instrument on a Russian Space Telescope”

Cosmonauts Find Cracks in the Aging Zarya ISS Module

A space station is born. The Russian Zarya module (top) is connected to the U.S. Unity module using the Canadarm on Dec. 6, 1998. Shot is a still from an IMAX camera carried on board shuttle Endeavour. Credit: NASA

It appears that the International Space Station is showing its age. Or, at least, the older modules that have been in space since 1998 certainly are. According to statements made by a senior Russian space official, cosmonauts aboard the ISS have discovered new cracks in the Functional Cargo Block (FCB) module – aka. Zarya (“Dawn”). These cracks were found in seven of the module’s twenty windows and could eventually threaten the entire station.

Continue reading “Cosmonauts Find Cracks in the Aging Zarya ISS Module”

NASA and Seven Countries Sign the Artemis Accords for the Exploration of the Moon. Russia Declined to Participate

In this illustration, an astronaut carefully climbs down the ladder and carefully places her foot on the Moon. Image Credit: NASA

It looks like Russia is thumbing its nose at international cooperation on the Moon. They’ve refused to sign the Artemis Accords, which are a set of rules governing Lunar exploration. NASA and seven other countries have signed on already, with more to come.

Continue reading “NASA and Seven Countries Sign the Artemis Accords for the Exploration of the Moon. Russia Declined to Participate”

Russia Just Tested an Anti-Satellite Weapon

Orbital ATK Minotaur IV rocket streaks to orbit after blastoff carrying the ORS-5 space situational awareness and debris tracking satellite to orbit for the military at 2:04 a.m. EDT on August 26, 2017 from pad 46 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Michael Seeley/WeReportSpace

The United States and Russia/USSR have been adversaries for a long time. Their heated rivarly stretches back to the waning days of WW2, when the enormous Red Army was occupying large swathes of eastern Europe, and the allies recognized the inherent threat.

The Cold War followed, when the two nations aimed an absurd number of nuclear warheads at each other. Then came the Space Race, when both nations vied for the prestige of making it to the Moon.

The US won that race, but the rivalry didn’t cool down.

Continue reading “Russia Just Tested an Anti-Satellite Weapon”

Six People Have Begun a 122-Day Simulated Mission on the Moon

Here, a surface exploration crew begins its investigation of a typical, small lava tunnel, to determine if it could serve as a natural shelter for the habitation modules of a Lunar Base. Credit: NASA's Johnson Space Center

July 20st, 2019, will mark the 50th anniversary of the historic Moon Landing, where astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the lunar surface for the first time. This accomplishment was the high point of the “Space Race” and has remained NASA’s crowning achievement in space. In the coming years, NASA will attempt to return to the Moon, where they will be joined by several other space agencies.

To prepare for these eventual missions, a group of cosmonauts recently commenced an isolation experiment that will simulate a long-term mission to the Moon. It’s called the SIRIUS-19 experiment, which began earlier today at 02:00 p.m. local time (04:00 a.m. PDT; 07:00 a.m. EDT) at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Biomedical Problems (IBMP) in Moscow.

Continue reading “Six People Have Begun a 122-Day Simulated Mission on the Moon”

Russia and China Are Working on Space and Counterspace Weapons

The first Long March 5 rocket being rolled out for launch at Wenchang in late October 2016. Credit: Su Dong/China Daily

Every year, the Department of National Intelligence (DNI) releases its Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community. This annual report contains the intelligence community’s assessment of potential threats to US national security and makes recommendations accordingly. In recent years, these threats have included the development and proliferation of weapons, regional wars, economic trends, terrorism, cyberterrorism, etc.

This year’s assessment, which was released on February 8th, 2018, was certainly a mixed bag of warnings. Among the many potential threats to national security, the authors emphasized the many recent developments taking place in space. According to their assessment, the expansion of the global space industry, growing cooperation between the private and public sector, and the growth of various states in space, could constitute a threat to US national security.

Naturally, the two chief actors that are singled out were China and Russia. As they indicate, these countries will be leading the pack in the coming years when it comes to expanding space-based reconnaissance, communications and navigation systems. This will not only enable their abilities (and those of their allies) when it comes to space-based research, but will have military applications as well.

The second flight of the Long March 5 lifting off from Wenchang on July 2nd, 2017. Credit: CNS

As they state in the section of the report titled “Space and Counhttps://www.dni.gov/files/documents/Newsroom/Testimonies/2018-ATA—Unclassified-SSCI.pdfterspace“:

“Continued global space industry expansion will further extend space-enabled capabilities and space situational awareness to nation-state, nonstate, and commercial space actors in the coming years, enabled by the increased availability of technology, private-sector investment, and growing international partnerships for shared production and operation… All actors will increasingly have access to space-derived information services, such as imagery, weather, communications, and positioning, navigation, and timing for intelligence, military, scientific, or business purposes.”

A key aspect of this development is outlined in the section titled “Emerging and Disruptive Technology,” which addresses everything from the development of AI and internet technologies to additive manufacturing and advanced materials. In short, it not just the development of new rockets and spacecraft that are at issue here, but the benefits brought about by cheaper and lighter materials, more rapid information sharing and production.

“Emerging technology and new applications of existing technology will also allow our adversaries to more readily develop weapon systems that can strike farther, faster, and harder and challenge the United States in all warfare domains, including space,” they write.

Artist’s illustration of China’s 8-ton Tiangong-1 space station, which is expected to fall to Earth in late 2017. Credit: CMSE

Specifically, anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons are addressed as the major threat. Such technologies, according to the report, have the potential to reduce US and allied military effectiveness by disrupting global communications, navigation and coordination between nations and armies. These technologies could be destructive, in the form of anti-satellite missiles, but also nondestructive – i.e. electromagnetic pulse (EMP) devices. As they indicate:

“We assess that, if a future conflict were to occur involving Russia or China, either country would justify attacks against US and allied satellites as necessary to offset any perceived US military advantage derived from military, civil, or commercial space systems. Military reforms in both countries in the past few years indicate an increased focus on establishing operational forces designed to integrate attacks against space systems and services with military operations in other domains.”

The authors further anticipate that Russian and Chinese destructive ASAT technology could reach operational capacity within a few years time. To this end, they cite recent changes in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which include the formation of military units that have training in counter-space operations and the development of ground-launched ASAT missiles.

While they are not certain about Russia’s capability to wage ASAT warfare, they venture that similar developments are taking place. Another area of focus is the development of directed-energy weapons for the purpose of blinding or damaging space-based optical sensors. This technology is similar to what the US investigated decades ago for the sake of strategic missile defense – aka. the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).

An artist’s concept of a Space Laser Satellite Defense System. Credit: USAF

While these weapons would not be used to blow up satellites in the conventional sense, they would be capable of blinding or damaging sensitive space-based optical sensors. On top of that, the report cites how Russia and China continue to conduct on-orbit activities and launching satellites that are deemed “experimental”. A good example of this was a recent proposal made by researchers from the Information and Navigation College at China’s Air Force Engineering University.

The study which detailed their findings called for the deployment of a high-powered pulsed ablative laser that could be used to break up space junk. While the authors admit that such technology can have peaceful applications – ranging from satellite inspection, refueling and repair – they could also be used against other spacecraft. While the United States has been researching the technology for decades, China and Russia’s growing presence in space threatens to tilt this balance of power.

Moreover, there are the loopholes in the existing legal framework – as outlined in the Outer Space Treaty – which the authors believe China and Russia are intent on exploiting:

“Russia and China continue to publicly and diplomatically promote international agreements on the nonweaponization of space and “no first placement” of weapons in space. However, many classes of weapons would not be addressed by such proposals, allowing them to continue their pursuit of space warfare capabilities while publicly maintaining that space must be a peaceful domain.”

Artist’s impression of a laser removing orbital debris, based on NASA pictures. Credit: Fulvio314/NASA/Wikipedia Commons

For example, the Outer Space Treaty bars signatories from placing weapons of mass destruction in orbit of Earth, on the Moon, on any other celestial body, or in outer space in general. By definition, this referred to nuclear devices, but does not extend to conventional weapons in orbit. This leaves room for antisatellite platforms or other conventional space-based weapons that could constitute a major threat.

Beyond China and Russia, the report also indicates that Iran’s growing capabilities in rocketry and missile technology could pose a threat down the road. As with the American and Russian space programs, developments in space rocketry and ICBMs are seen as being complimentary to each other:

“Iran’s ballistic missile programs give it the potential to hold targets at risk across the region, and Tehran already has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East. Tehran’s desire to deter the United States might drive it to field an ICBM. Progress on Iran’s space program, such as the launch of the Simorgh SLV in July 2017, could shorten a pathway to an ICBM because space launch vehicles use similar technologies.”

All told, the report makes some rather predictable assessments. Given China and Russia’s growing power in space, it is only natural that the DNI would see this as a potential threat. However, that does not mean that one should assume an alarmist attitude. When it comes to assessing threats, points are awarded for considering every contingency. But if history has taught us anything, it’s that assessment and realization are two very different things.

Remember Sputnik? The lesson there was clear. Don’t panic!

Further Reading: DNI