Russian official sounds skeptical note about Gateway

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BREMEN, Germany — A Russian space official said Oct. 1 that while his country is interested in lunar exploration, it’s not satisfied with participating in NASA’s lunar Gateway program as currently structured.

Speaking on a panel at the 69th International Astronautical Congress here, Dmitri Loskutov, head of the international cooperation department at the Russian state space corporation Roscosmos, said he had issues with the Gateway as a NASA-led project rather than a partnership more like the International Space Station.

“For the moment, it looks like it is an American program with international participation,” he said. “How will this cooperation be managed? Will there be some sort of international administrative body? Will its principles remain those that are now valid for the International Space Station, in terms of consensus in decision-making?”

Loskutov suggested that if the Gateway was run as a NASA-led program, Russia might not be interested in being a partner.

“For the moment, all the decisions are made by NASA. It seems U.S. standards will be imposed,” he said. “For Roscosmos and the Russian Federation, limited participation is not that interesting.”

Loskutov’s comments are similar to those made by his boss, Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin, last month. Rogozin said at one meeting that “Russia simply cannot afford to take a back seat in foreign projects” like the U.S.-led Gateway, according to a report by the Russian news service Tass. A Roscosmos spokesman later clarified that Rogozin was not saying Russia would not participate in the project, at least not yet.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, interviewed at a Washington Space Business Roundtable luncheon Sept. 24, said he had not heard any criticism about the Gateway from Russia or other potential partners. “I have not heard anybody at this point, including Russia, indicate that they did not want to be part of our activities to get back to the surface of the moon,” he said.

During a panel discussion here Oct. 1, representatives of several other space agencies expressed an interest in working on the Gateway in one form or another. The exact plans for doing so, including what contributions each agency will make, have yet to be worked out.

“There’s a process we’re going through right now,” Bridenstine said at a press conference after the heads-of-agencies panel. “We’re formulating what the architecture will look like, and then we’re looking at each of the space agencies and their capabilities, and we’ll be incorporating those capabilities into the architecture.” He didn’t give a schedule for making such decisions.

Bridenstine noted one challenge for international cooperation on the Gateway is that the station is smaller than the ISS. “That means having additional partners on the Gateway is maybe more difficult than having partners on the International Space Station,” he said. “However, since it’s an open architecture, we’re going to have the ability to have partners involved in ways they maybe couldn’t have been involved on the International Space Station.”

Bridenstine said that the Gateway is intended to support human exploration of the moon by NASA and international and commercial partners, likening the facility to a reusable command and service module. That could fit in to the concept of the “Moon Village,” a broad partnership of agencies and companies supporting lunar exploration long espoused by Jan Woerner, director general of the European Space Agency.

“Everything Jan said is correct,” Bridenstine said during the panel after Woerner discussed the Moon Village concept. “You have been leading on this for a very long time, and we’re grateful for your leadership.”

Bridenstine emphasized the importance of international cooperation in NASA’s lunar exploration plans. “Historically, we’ve had that [leadership] role and we want to maintain that role,” he said. “But, I am telling you that we cannot do what we do without the support of our international partners.”