US-Russia Tensions Over Ukraine Crisis Could Lead To An End Of ISS Operations For NASA By 2020
May 14, 2014

US-Russia Tensions Over Ukraine Crisis Could Lead To An End Of ISS Operations For NASA By 2020

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

The latest escalation in the political row between the United States and Russia has reached new heights – low-Earth orbit.

On Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said Russia would not agree to continue operating the International Space Station (ISS) beyond 2020. US officials have stated that they would like the ISS collaboration to last until at least 2024.

"We are very concerned about continuing to develop high-tech projects with such an unreliable partner as the United States, which politicizes everything," Rogozin said during a press conference.

The two nations are currently exchanging sanctions and words over the on-going upheaval in Ukraine. The United States has accused Russia of backing separatists and the Russian government accuses Washington of aiding the removal of a Moscow-friendly president in February.

The Russian announcement, which came from a politician not a space agency official, comes one day after NASA announced it would stop all space-related, non-ISS efforts with Russia due to the current political dispute.

For its part, Russia will be preventing the US from access to Russian-made rocket engines for launching military satellites, as well as suspend operation of GPS satellite navigation system sites on its territory starting in June. Rogozin said the Russian GPS sites would be permanently closed if an agreement between the two countries is not reached by September. He added that the closures would not affect normal operations of the GPS system in Russia, where it is used by millions on a daily basis.

In addition to suspending all non-ISS collaboration with Russia, the US has said it intends to refuse export licenses for high-technology items typically used by the Russian military.

"These sanctions are out of place and inappropriate," Rogozin said. "We have enough of our own problems."

The Russian official added that the NK-33 and RD-180 engines, which Russia supplies to the United States, are ready for delivery – but said they would not be released, keeping the US from potentially launching military satellites. The RD-180 engines are used in the satellite-launching Atlas 5 rockets – manufactured by the United Launch Alliance, a Lockheed Martin-Boeing collaboration.

The ULA said it hopes any dispute between the two nations can be resolved quickly, but said it has a two-year supply of engines that can be used until the conflict is resolved or an alternative is found.

"ULA and our Department of Defense customers have always prepared contingency plans in the event of a supply disruption," ULA spokeswoman Jessica Rye said in a statement, according to Reuters.

Rogozin noted that the Kremlin is looking at "strategic changes" that could impact its space program after 2020. He also made a jab at the US by saying the Russians could use the ISS without US cooperation.

“The Russian segment can exist independently from the American one,” he said. “The US one cannot."

Commercial entities within the US, such as SpaceX and Sierra Nevada Corp., have slowly been progressing toward offering a viable alternative to government funded space travel and operations and observers expect this latest dispute will only serve to motivate these efforts even further.