Russia is becoming very skilled at making threats. Today, Vladimir Putin threatened to launch a nuclear war. According to media reports, Putin put Russia’s nuclear forces “high alert.”
Dmitry Rogozin (director-general of Russia’s space program Roscosmos) tweeted a threat to International Space Station. He said that U.S. sanctions and NATO sanctions could “destroy cooperation on the ISS.” He also suggested the possibility that the ISS could collide with the United States or Europe.
There are currently four NASA astronauts and two Russian cosmonauts aboard the space station. One European astronaut is also onboard.
Business Insider: CNN reports that Biden stated further that sanctions would “degrade (Russia’s), aerospace industry, and their space program.”
Rogozin responded on Twitter to Rogozin’s statement: “If we block cooperation with you, who will save ISS from an uncontrolled orbit and fall into the United States of Europe?”
He said: India and China have the option to drop a 500-ton steel structure. Are you willing to make a threat by threatening them with such a possibility? Russia is not the ISS, so you are responsible for all risks. Are you prepared for them?
Rogozin mentioned that the ISS’s orbit and location in space are controlled by Russian Progress MS cargo ships.
According to the European Space Agency (ESA), the Russian segment of ISS is responsible for navigation, guidance, and control of the whole complex. Russia’s Progress cargo ships sometimes give the ISS a lift into higher orbit when needed.
Space.com: Rogozin pointed out Russia’s control function on the ISS and said Biden was “out of the loop”. He also stated that Biden does not know that Russia has systems that allow the space station to avoid “dangerous associations with space junk.”
Rogozin stated that the US’ “talented businessmen” are responsible for the space junk. He did not name any names but it is likely that he was referring to Elon Musk, SpaceX founder and CEO, who is currently building a large satellite-internet constellation called Starlink. Rogozin has apparently complicated feelings about Musk. He once invited the billionaire entrepreneur to tea.
Rogozin did not mention Russia’s blocking of international cooperation to limit space debris. The ISS must conduct maneuvers several times a year to avoid dangerous space junk.
Rogozin isn’t making idle threats. Roscosmos’s withdrawal of cooperation would have a severe impact on the station’s operations.
According to The Verge, NASA would need to find a way to keep the station in orbit so it does not fall into the Earth’s atmosphere. The Verge is told by Wayne Hale, former NASA Space Shuttle program manager and member of NASA’s Advisory Council. This scenario could take a while to materialize, so NASA may have to wait to find an alternative solution. Hale says, “It’s probably not like a week. It’ll likely be several years.”
The Russians heavily depend on NASA to keep their space station operational. NASA is responsible for controlling the orbit of the space station and for providing electricity to power the vehicle. Roscosmos and NASA have a symbiotic relationship with the ISS. Any one of them could leave the station. Hale says, “Either it’s going to stay together or it isn’t going to work.”
Hopefully, the war between the U.S. space agencies and Russia will be short-lived and not cause a major disruption in relations. NASA will scramble to find solutions to complex problems if this happens.