With Much More than ISS at Stake, Europe Stays Course on Russian Space Partnerships
KOUROU, French Guiana — Europe has no intention of modifying its space-program relationship with Russia despite Russia’s takeover of Crimea and despite NASA’s decision to pull back on dealings with Moscow, European government officials said April 3.
Attending the launch of a Europeanized Russian Soyuz rocket — the seventh launched from Europe’s spaceport here on the northeast coast of South America — and applauding the announcement of a new contract for the purchase of seven more Soyuz vehicles from the Russian space agency, officials said the diplomatic tensions over Russia’s moves in the Ukraine are like a choppy sea surface.
Down below, where business is done, they said, things are continuing as usual.
Jean-Jacques Dordain, director-general of the 20-nation European Space Agency, said none of his governments — almost all members of NATO — nor anyone from the 28-nation European Union has suggested that Europe shut down any of its multiple space-policy arrangements with Russia.
Unlike NASA, Europe has multiple programs with Russia. Launching Russian Soyuz rockets here, which entails the arrival of up to 300 Russian engineers for weeks at a time for each launch, is expected to expand to four this year and to remain at an average cadence of three each year through 2018.
Chief Executive Stephane Israel declined to disclose the financial terms of his company’s contract with Russia’s Roscosmos space agency for seven more Soyuz vehicles, to be launched between 2016 and early 2019. He said the price was about what was expected when taking into account Russia’s inflation rate.
Israel told reporters April 4, after the successful launch of a Soyuz carrying the European Commission’s Sentinel-1A Earth observation satellite, that the contract negotiations were completed by March 14, when the formal contract was signed. But since then, he said, his company’s dealings with Russia have not been changed.
Bernard Chemoul, director of the Guiana Space Center spaceport, said in an April 4 interview that preparations for the April 3 launch occurred without perturbation from the Ukrainian crisis.
One European Commission official said the commission has made no moves to constrict its dealings with Russia and dismissed NASA’s announcement — which specifically excluded the international space station from the ban on dealings with Russia — as empty posturing.
The French space agency, CNES, invited a Roscosmos delegation to witness the April 3 launch, and the Russian agency’s director and deputy director were both present for the liftoff.
Roscosmos Director Oleg Ostapenko gave a speech after the launch celebrating Russian-European space ties.
Beyond Soyuz, Europe and Russia have partnered on a two-launch Mars program, called ExoMars, and are discussing a joint venture to Jupiter or one of its moons as well.
Follow Peter on Twitter: @pbdes