Rogozin delays decision on space station future

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DENVER — After Western nations refused his demand to end sanctions on Russian companies involved in the International Space Station, the head of Roscosmos said he will make recommendations in the “near future” on Russia’s continued participation in the station, but there are no signs of any near-term changes in station operations.

Dmitry Rogozin had set a March 31 deadline for the United States and other Western nations to lift sanctions on two Russian companies, TsNIMash and Rocket and Space Centre Progress, that support ISS operations. Rogozin warned in March he would make a decision of some kind if sanctions were not lifted, but declined to elaborate on the decision.

In a lengthy Twitter thread April 2, Rogozin posted letters he received from NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, Canadian Space Agency President Lisa Campbell and European Space Agency Director General Josef Aschbacher. As expected, none announced that the sanctions were being lifted.

Nelson, in his letter, stated that “U.S. export control measures continue to allow cooperation between the U.S. and Russia to ensured continued safe operations of the ISS.” NASA stated in February, when the White House imposed its first set of sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, that ISS was excluded from the sanctions.

Campbell said her agency has no “direct cooperation” with the sanctioned Russian companies but would work with the Canadian government to ensure safe ISS operations. Aschbacher responded that sanctions are the responsibility of ESA’s 22 member states.

“I consider this state of affairs unacceptable,” Rogozin said in a translation of his Russian-language tweets. “I believe that the restoration of normal relations between partners in the International Space Station and other joint projects is possible only with the complete and unconditional lifting of illegal sanctions.”

However, he took no step to end current cooperation on the ISS, despite some media reports to the contrary. Instead, he said that Roscosmos would make proposals on “the timing of the completion of cooperation” on the ISS to Russian leadership “in the near future.”

NASA officials have emphasized since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that there had been no changes in the day-to-day operations of the ISS. That included the March 30 landing of a Soyuz spacecraft carrying NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei along with two Russian cosmonauts. The recovery operations in Kazakhstan looked no different from for previous Soyuz landings, and Vande Hei was back in Houston about 24 hours after landing via a NASA jet.

“I was really excited to see Mark Vande Hei land,” NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy said in a March 30 interview hours after his landing. “That just goes to show this is a very professional relationship on both sides, and we are continuing the business of the space station.”

Those routine operations include discussions with Roscosmos and other partners to extend ISS operations from 2024 to 2030. Kathy Lueders, NASA associate administrator for space operations, said a multilateral control board meeting of the ISS partners was scheduled for June to discuss efforts by the partners to extend the ISS to 2030. “All our international partners, including Roscosmos, are making progress on moving towards station extension through 2030,” she said at a March 31 briefing about the Crew-4 mission to the station, scheduled to launch April 20.

“We are certainly not immune to the geopolitical situation right now. These are very challenging times,” said NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, commander of Crew-4, at a briefing later that day. He said he and his crew were focused on space station operations and research. “We very much look forward to getting on orbit and working with our Russian colleagues, our friends up there, and having a safe and successful mission and getting everybody back home safely.”