US-Russian relations may deteriorate to the point where the US chooses to pull out of space cooperation, particularly the International Space Station (ISS) program, an expert warned, adding that Moscow may find a replacement in Beijing or Delhi.
The US and Russia have a standing agreement to keep the ISS running until at least 2024. What form the cooperation between the two countries – which also work with the EU, Japan and Canada – would take after that is yet to be decided. A new space station built by the same teams to replace the aging ISS is a possibility.
Andrey Ionin, a space expert and a corresponding fellow with the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics, believes however that Moscow should be preparing for Washington to shut down cooperation in space.
“I believe that the Americans have been sending signals that after 2024 they would not continue with the station. I believe they may pull out even earlier, depending on how NASA projects and Elon Musk projects go,” he told RIA Novosti, referring to the head of the private company SpaceX.
“If they go faster than they do now, it’s quite possible that the Americans would pull out early. Technically, they would remain in, but de facto they would not,” he added.
The expert said that even though the 2024 deadline for the ISS is still seven years away, Russia should be now talking to Asian countries on potential cooperation on space programs.
“A project [like the ISS] should be developed by countries that see each other as strategic rather than tactical partners,” he explained. “We are seeing China, India, south-eastern Asian countries emerging. The all have a strong interest in manned space exploration,” Ionin said.
Space cooperation has been one area virtually unaffected by the growing animosity between the US and Russia. But some senior officials in both nations are skeptical over whether this will be true in the long run.
Among the skeptics is Russian Vice Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. “The issue of ISS is standing, and we are waiting for Roscosmos to submit its suggestions,” he has previously said.
“Who will we cooperate with in manned space exploration? Can we protect it as we have been doing from the sanctions and the influence of people like [US Senator John] McCain and other crazies, who banded toghether in the Senate and are trying to shoot themselves in the foot by stopping purchasing rocket engines, which they need to go into space.”
Rogozin was speaking of the prolonged effort of McCain and some other legislators to ban the purchase of Russia-made RD-180 engines used on Atlas-V rockets.
The speculation that US-Russian space cooperation may eventually sink has been around for years. Some reports in 2014 suggested that Russia may simply stop ferrying NASA astronauts to the ISS as retaliation for the US passing anti-Russian sanctions, even though this would violate a standing contract between the respective space agencies.
click here to read more