U.S. President Joe Biden speaking Feb. 24 from the White House. Credit: Screenshot of Whitehouse.gov video

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WASHINGTON — Russia’s space program won’t be shielded from U.S. sanctions in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, U.S. President Joe Biden said Thursday afternoon.

“We estimate that we will cut off more than half of Russia’s high-tech imports, and it will strike a blow to their ability to continue to modernize their military. It will degrade their aerospace industry, including their space program,” Biden said in a White House address outlining new sanctions. 

A White House fact sheet released Feb. 24 did not elaborate on specific sanctions or restrictions for Russia’s space program. The administration said it is imposing “Russia-wide denial of exports of sensitive technology, primarily targeting the Russian defense, aviation, and maritime sectors to cut off Russia’s access to cutting-edge technology.” Examples of such technologies include semiconductors, telecommunication, encryption security, lasers, sensors, navigation, avionics and maritime technologies. “These severe and sustained controls will cut off Russia’s access to cutting edge technology,” the fact sheet stated.

In a brief statement late Feb. 24, NASA said the new export restrictions would not affect its work with its Russian counterpart, Roscosmos, of operations of the International Space Station. “The new export control measures will continue to allow U.S.-Russia civil space cooperation,” the agency stated. “No changes are planned to the agency’s support for ongoing in orbit and ground station operations.”

In London, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said civil space cooperation with Russia could be impacted. “We will have to see what further downstream effects there are on collaboration of all kinds. I must say that hitherto I have been broadly in favor of continuing artistic and scientific collaboration. But in the current circumstances, it’s hard to see how even those can continue as normal.”

Johnson was responding to a question asked in Parliament about the implications of  Russia’s invasion for cooperation involving the International Space Station.

Biden’s statement prompted a sharp rebuke from Dmitry Rogozin, director general of Roscosmos and former deputy prime minister of Russia. In a series Russian language tweets, he noted that the U.S. had already blocked imports of radiation-hardened electronics and made it difficult for Western nations to procure commercial launches on Russian rockets. “We are ready to act here, too,” he said regarding launch restrictions.

Rogozin also raised questions about the future of the International Space Station. “Do you want to destroy our cooperation on the ISS?” he asked, noting that the station’s orbit is maintained by thruster firings on the Russian segment of the station, primarily by Progress cargo spacecraft. “If you block cooperation with us, who will save the ISS from an uncontrolled deorbit and fall into the United States or Europe?”

While the station depends on the Russian segment for propulsion, the U.S. segment provides key capabilities, like power, that the Russian segment lacks. Moreover, a Cygnus cargo spacecraft that arrived at the station Feb. 21 will conduct a test in April of reboosting the station as an alternative to Progress spacecraft.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has affected the operations of one U.S.-based launch vehicle developer. Launcher said Feb. 24 that it relocated 10 engineers in a Ukraine-based office, along with their immediate families, to Sofia, Bulgaria. It is also supporting six employees who elected to remain in Ukraine. Those engineers have been working on the design of the engine Launcher is developing for its Launcher Light small launch vehicle. Launcher added that it has no investment ties to either Russia or Ukraine.

Biden specifically mentions sanctions that affect Russia’s space program. https://t.co/7AkU9KDmrg

— Jeff Foust (@jeff_foust) February 24, 2022

The British PM says “hitherto I have been broadly in favor of continuing artistic and scientific collaboration, but in the current circumstances it’s hard to see how even those can continue as normal.”

Not clear he’s thought that much about ISS cooperation, though. https://t.co/J98I4UnIk5

— Jeff Foust (@jeff_foust) February 24, 2022

Байден заявил, что новые санкции коснутся российской космической программы. Ок. Остается выяснить детали:
1. Вы хотите перекрыть нам доступ к радиационностойкой микроэлектронике космического назначения? Так вы это уже сделали вполне официально в 2014 году.

— РОГОЗИН (@Rogozin) February 24, 2022

Computer translation of Dmitry Rogozin’s Feb. 24 tweet thread:

“Biden said the new sanctions would affect the Russian space program. OK. It remains to find out the details: 1. Do you want to block our access to radiation-resistant space microelectronics? So you already did it quite officially in 2014.As you noticed, we, nevertheless, continue to make our own spacecraft. And we will do them by expanding the production of the necessary components and devices at home. 

“2. Do you want to ban all countries from launching their spacecraft on the most reliable Russian rockets in the world? This is how you are already doing it and are planning to finally destroy the world market of space competition from January 1, 2023 by imposing sanctions on our launch vehicles. We are aware. This is also not news. We are ready to act here too.

“Do you want to destroy our cooperation on the ISS? This is how you already do it by limiting exchanges between our cosmonaut and astronaut training centers. Or do you want to manage the ISS yourself? Maybe President Biden is off topic, so explain to him that the correction of the station’s orbit, its avoidance of dangerous rendezvous with space ..garbage, with which your talented businessmen have polluted the near-Earth orbit, is produced exclusively by the engines of the Russian Progress MS cargo ships. 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. Are you ready for them?

“Gentlemen, when planning sanctions, check those who generate them for illness Alzheimer’s. Just in case. To prevent your sanctions from falling on your head. And not only in a figurative sense. Therefore, for the time being, as a partner, I suggest that you do not behave like an irresponsible gamer, disavow the statement about “Alzheimer’s sanctions”. Friendly advice”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...

Brian Berger is editor in chief of SpaceNews.com and the SpaceNews magazine. He joined SpaceNews.com in 1998, spending his first decade with the publication covering NASA. His reporting on the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia accident was...