ESA to continue cooperation but monitoring situation following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

by

HELSINKI — ESA is continuing work on the International Space Station and ExoMars programs in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but monitoring the situation, the agency’s director-general said Friday.

“Notwithstanding the current conflict, civil space cooperation remains a bridge,” Josef Aschbacher tweeted.

“ESA continues to work on all of its programmes, including on ISS and ExoMars launch campaign, in order to honor commitments with Member States and partners. We continue to monitor the evolving situation.”

ExoMars 2022, involving the European-built Rosalind Franklin rover and a Roscosmos-made lander, is scheduled to launch on a Proton-M rocket from Baikonur in September. 

SpaceNews understands that for the time being, all ExoMars activities are proceeding in view of the launch of the mission with a window starting on 20 September.

Any delay would likely mean the mission would miss a narrow launch window of a few weeks for launches to Mars and would again slip 26 months until the next opportunity.

ESA is engaged in the multi-decade ISS program along with partners Russia, the United States and others. ESA currently has German astronaut Matthias Maurer on board with Russian cosmonauts Pyotr Dubrov and Anton Shkaplerov and NASA’s Mark Vande Hei, Kayla Barron, Thomas Marshburn and Raja Chari.

Meanwhile a Soyuz rocket is scheduled to launch a new pair of Galileo GNSS satellites for the EU Agency for the Space Programme (EUSPA) from Europe’s Guiana Space Centre in French Guiana. Launch is currently set for the second quarter of 2022, with operations continuing as normal for the time being.

The events in Ukraine are likely to have serious impacts on European civil cooperation with Russia, however. 

“The Crimea and Donbas wars from 2014 already put severe political stresses on Russia as a suitable partner in space,” Bleddyn Bowen, a lecturer in international relations and space policy at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, told SpaceNews.

”It looks like big cooperative projects with Russia in space might well be a thing of the past, unless European countries decide that they don’t mind Russia breaking the Ukrainian military, deposing the government, and installing a vassal regime.

“Russia is not a partner in the Lunar Gateway and that seems like a headache that’s been avoided for the U.S., Europe, Japan and Canada.”

China and Russia are planning development of an International Lunar Research Station for the 2030s and have highlighted ESA and its member states as potentially valuable partners.

In response to a question from Labour Member of Parliament Barry Gardiner about the implications of Russia’s invasion for the International Space Station in the House of Commons Thursday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it is hard to see how cooperation can continue as normal.

“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.”

Next, on top of these financial measures and in full concert with the United States and the EU, we will introduce new trade restrictions and stringent export controls similar to those that they in the US are implementing. We will bring forward new legislation to ban the export of all dual-use items to Russia, including a range of high-end and critical technological equipment and components in sectors including electronics, telecommunications and aerospace. 

The Prime Minister said in an opening statement during the Feb. 24 debate on Ukraine, Johnson, the UK government will, on top of financial measures and in full concert with the United States and the EU, “bring forward new legislation to ban the export of all dual-use items to Russia, including a range of high-end and critical technological equipment and components in sectors including electronics, telecommunications and aerospace.”

A spokesperson for the UK Space Agency, which is involved in the Rosalind Franklin rover, said: “It is right for questions to be raised about future space cooperation with Russia following the illegal invasion of Ukraine. We are engaging regularly with our partners in the European Space Agency and monitoring the situation closely.”

U.S. President Biden announced a range of sanctions Thursday in response to the invasion, noting that these would hit Russia’s aerospace industry.

“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. 

In a brief statement late Feb. 24, NASA said the new export restrictions would not affect its work with Roscosmos in 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.”

Launcher, a small launch vehicle developer, tweeted Friday that its staff at Dnipro in Ukraine had been relocated to a new European office in Sofia, Bulgaria, in the wake of the invasion.

Article updated at 10:07 a.m. Eastern with comment from UKSA.