Virtually every aspect of the manned and unmanned US space program – including NASA, other government agencies, private aerospace company’s and crucially important US national security payloads – are highly dependent on Russian & Ukrainian rocketry and are therefore potentially at risk amidst the current Crimea crisis as tensions flared up dangerously in recent days between Ukraine and Russia with global repercussions.
The International Space Station (ISS), astronaut rides to space and back, the Atlas V and Antares rockets and even critical U.S. spy satellites providing vital, real time intelligence gathering are among the examples of programs that may be in peril if events deteriorate or worse yet, spin out of control.
The Crimean confrontation and all the threats and counter threats of armed conflicts and economic sanctions shines a spotlight on US vulnerabilities regarding space exploration, private industry and US national security programs, missions, satellites and rockets.
The consequences of escalating tensions could be catastrophic for all sides.
Many Americans are likely unaware of the extent to which the US, Russian and Ukrainian space programs, assets and booster rockets are inextricably intertwined and interdependent.
First, let’s look at America’s dependency on Russia regarding the ISS.
The massive orbiting lab complex is a partnership of 15 nations and five space agencies worldwide – including Russia’s Roscosmos and the US NASA. The station is currently occupied by a six person crew of three Russians, two Americans and one Japanese.
Since the forced retirement of NASA’s space shuttle program in 2011, America completely lost its own human spaceflight capability. So now the only ticket for astronauts to space and back is by way of the Russian Soyuz capsule.
“People lose track of the fact that we have occupied the International Space Station now for 13 consecutive years uninterrupted, and that has been through multiple international crises.”
“I don’t think it’s an insignificant fact that we are starting to see a number of people with the idea that the International Space Station be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.”
But he urged Congress to fully fund CCP and avoid still more delays.
“Let me be clear about one thing,” Bolden said.
“The choice here is between fully funding the request to bring space launches back to the US or continuing millions in subsidies to the Russians. It’s that simple. The Obama administration chooses investing in America, and we believe Congress will choose this course as well.”
What will happen to shipments of the dual nozzle, dual chamber RD-180’s manufactured by Russia’s NPO Energomesh in the event of economic sanctions or worse? It’s anyone’s guess.
ULA also manufactures the Delta IV expendable rocket which is virtually all American made and has successfully launched numerous US national security payloads.
The Antares rocket and Cygnus resupply freighter developed by Orbital Sciences are essential to NASA’s plans to restore US cargo delivery runs to the ISS – another US capability lost by voluntarily stopping shuttle flights. .
Orbital Sciences and SpaceX are both under contract with NASA to deliver 20,000 kg of supplies to the station. And they both have now successfully docked their cargo vehicles – Cygnus and Dragon – to the ISS.
The first stage of Antares is built in Ukraine by the Yuzhnoye Design Bureau and Yuzhmash.
And the Ukrainian booster factory is located in the predominantly Russian speaking eastern region – making for an even more complicated situation.
By contrast, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo vessel is virtually entirely American built and not subject to economic embargoes.
At a US Congressional hearing held today (March 5) dealing with national security issues, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk underscored the crucial differences in availability between the Falcon 9 and Atlas V in this excerpt from his testimony:
“In light of Russia’s de facto annexation of the Ukraine’s Crimea region and the formal severing of military ties, the Atlas V cannot possibly be described as providing “assured access to space” for our nation when supply of the main engine depends on President Putin’s permission, said Space X CEO and founder Elon Musk, at the US Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing on Defense.
So, continuing operations of the ISS and US National Security are potentially held hostage to the whims of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russia has threatened to retaliate with sanctions against the West, if the West institutes sanctions against Russia.
The Crimean crisis is without a doubt the most dangerous East-West conflict since the end of the Cold War.
Right now no one knows the future outcome of the crisis in Crimea. Diplomats are talking but some limited military assets on both sides are reportedly on the move today.
Source: Universe Today