The political figure who has perhaps done the most to affect American space policy this year isn’t an American. Instead, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, whose portfolio includes aerospace and defense, has shaped American space policy on topics from space access to the future of the international space station largely through his words and threats.
Rogozin’s biggest role has involved the future of the Russian-manufactured RD-180 engine that powers the first stage of the Atlas 5 rocket. In May, after the United States levied sanctions against Russia during the Ukraine crisis, Rogozin announced that Russia would no longer allow the RD-180 to be used for launches of American military spacecraft.
Rogozin has yet to act on that, however: Atlas 5 launches for the Pentagon have continued, andtook delivery of two RD-180 engines from NPO Energomash in August. Nonetheless, members of Congress, worried that Rogozin could block future RD-180 exports, have responded with provisions in defense authorization and spending bills to start work on a domestic replacement for the engine. In August, the Air Force issued a request for information to industry regarding a potential RD-180 replacement.
Space Exploration Technologies Corp., which filed suit in federal court in April to overturn the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle block buy contract with, mentioned Rogozin’s role overseeing the Russian defense industry in its lawsuit, as well as his inclusion on a list of officials sanctioned by the U.S. government. The court responded with an injunction at the end of April blocking the transfer of funds to NPO Energomash, but lifted it a week later after administration officials said they had no evidence that Rogozin directly profited from RD-180 sales.
Rogozin’s rhetoric has affected civil space policy as well. In the spring, he suggested Russia might block NASA astronauts from using Soyuz spacecraft to access the international space station. A prolific user of social media, Rogozin made his point in one tweet that included a photo of a trampoline with the NASA logo on it, suggesting it would be the only way NASA astronauts would be able to get to the space station in the future. He also stated Russia would end its participation in the ISS in 2020, even as NASA sought to extend the station’s life to at least 2024.
As with the RD-180, Rogozin has yet to follow through with his threats. NASA astronauts continue to use Soyuz spacecraft to reach the space station, while Russian media reported in August that Roscosmos was considering an extension of the ISS beyond 2020. However, his statements have created uncertainty about Russia’s long-term plans, particularly on Capitol Hill.
Rogozin plays a large role in domestic space activities, taking over direct oversight in early September of the Vostochny Cosmodrome in eastern Russia. He also regularly publicizes Russian space accomplishments. “‘Foton-M’ Satellite and its joyful crew have returned to the Earth,” he tweeted on Sept. 1, as the research spacecraft returned to Earth. Unfortunately, its most famous crew members, five geckos, did not survive the trip.