Russian troops
A commercial satellite image released Feb. 22 shows Russian forces gathering near the town of Mazyr, Belarus, less than 40 kilometers from the Ukrainian border. Credit: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies

WASHINGTON — American and European officials said Feb. 23 that space cooperation with Russia remains unaffected even as that country continues to threaten a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

During a panel discussion about space diplomacy organized by George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute, U.S. State Department officials said cooperation between NASA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos on the International Space Station had not been altered, at least so far, by the Ukraine crisis.

“As the world follows the political activities related to Russia and Ukraine, NASA continues to safely conduct research on board the ISS, and cooperation continues with Roscosmos and our other international partners,” said Valda Vikmanis-Keller, director of the Office of Space Affairs in the State Department.

She said there were no plans to change upcoming major activities, including the launch of a Soyuz spacecraft with three Russian cosmonauts on March 18, followed by the March 30 return of the Soyuz spacecraft currently on the station with two Russian cosmonauts and NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei. Training of NASA astronauts in Russia continues, with up to five scheduled to go to Russia in mid-March, while three Russian cosmonauts train at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

“Despite what’s going on geopolitically, safe, secure operations and cooperation on the ISS continues,” she said.

Later in the panel, Sylvie Espinasse, head of the Washington office of the European Space Agency, said European cooperation with Russia in space also remains unaffected. “We are closely monitoring what is happening, but for now activities are ongoing as planned,” she said.

That includes not just cooperation on the ISS but also between ESA and Roscosmos on the ExoMars mission, scheduled to launch in late September on a Proton rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The ExoMars launch campaign will formally start next month with the arrival of European personnel at Baikonur to start integration of the Mars lander spacecraft.

Nicolas Maubert, counselor for space at the French Embassy in Washington, added the French space agency CNES still has its Moscow office open and is planning an event there this week to mark the agency’s 60th anniversary.

Dmitry Rogozin, director general of Roscosmos, said in a Feb. 23 tweet that he has a good working relationship with NASA, even while criticizing the U.S. government in general. “We greatly value our professional relationship with NASA, but as a Russian and a citizen of Russia, I am completely unhappy with the sometimes openly hostile U.S. policy towards my country,” he wrote.

That included, he said in another tweet, sanctions imposed against Russian space companies by the United States. “Who came up with the idea to announce U.S. sanctions a year ago against our leading space companies responsible for international cooperation on the ISS? I will answer you myself: the U.S. government did it.”

Rogozin was referring to the decision by the Commerce Department in late 2020 to add Russia’s Central Research Institute of Machine Building, or TsNIIMash, and the Progress Rocket and Space Centre to what’s known as the Military End User list, restricting exports by U.S. companies to them. The two companies were among more than 100 Chinese and Russian firms added to that list. Rogozin himself is also sanctioned because of his role as deputy prime minister of Russia in 2014, during Russia’s previous conflict with Ukraine.

“From the Russian military space perspective, we have been focused over a number of years on using sanctions or export controls to try to slow and delay their space programs,” said Eric Desautels, director of the Office of Emerging Security Challenges and Defense Policy in the State Department’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, during the panel discussion. That includes efforts by Russia to develop “counterspace systems” that threaten U.S. space assets.

“That’s why we’ve been very much focused on slowing and delaying that type of cooperation to make sure they’re not getting parts from the United States or from U.S. allies to help them build those systems,” he said.

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...