This collaboration, which has overcome all the diplomatic shocks for more than 20 years, could it be threatened today?

On Thursday, US President Joe Biden announced sanctions against Russia in response to its military offensive in Ukraine.

These "will damage their aerospace industry, including their space program, and damage their ability to build ships," he said.

In response, the director of the Russian space agency Dmitry Rogozin, accustomed to thunderous declarations and close to the Kremlin, published inflammatory tweets, accusing the United States of "blackmail" and of wanting to "destroy cooperation" concerning the ISS .

However, without Russia, "who will save the ISS from uncontrolled de-orbiting, and from falling on the United States or Europe?", He asked, threatening.

The Station's orbit corrections do rely on the Russian spacecraft's propulsion system.

But the American segment also has essential vital functions.

This interdependence was precisely thought out to prevent "the skids due to current events", explains to AFP Julie Patarin-Jossec, author of an essay on the ISS and ex-teacher at the State University of Saint -Petersburg.

The director of the Russian space agency Dmitry Rogozin in front of a Soyuzle rocket December 8, 2021 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan SHAMIL ZHUMATOV POOL / AFP

Moreover, Moscow has no interest in severing ties: "If Russia were to withdraw from the ISS, which is relatively impossible due to the programme's legal framework, that would mean that it would no longer have manned space program," added the sociologist.


For its part, NASA sought to smooth things over, declaring "to continue to work with international partners", including the Russian space agency Roscosmos, "for the safety of current operations" of the ISS.

"Despite the ongoing conflict, civil space cooperation remains a bridge," tweeted the director general of the European Space Agency (ESA), which is also one of the international partners of the ISS, with Japan and Canada.

The two Russians, four Americans and the German currently in orbit in the Station are most certainly aware of the current tensions, according to Julie Patarin-Jossec.

But their training has taught them to remain pragmatic, and most are very attached to the international dimension of the program, she underlines.

This is not the first time that the Ukrainian situation has caused spatial turmoil.

In 2014, after the first American sanctions following the annexation of Crimea, Dmitry Rogozin, then Russian deputy prime minister in charge of space, had suggested that the United States "use a trampoline to transport its astronauts to the ISS ".

At the time, they no longer had American ships, and therefore used Russian Soyuz rockets.

In 2020, after SpaceX's first flight to the ISS ended that monopoly, company boss Elon Musk said provocatively: "The trampoline works."

The episode had also pushed Russia to diversify its supplies.

Despite the 2014 sanctions, already targeting "microelectronics", "we are still building our ships", tweeted Mr. Rogozin.

"And we will continue to build them by establishing domestic production of the necessary components."

According to Julie Patarin-Jossec, a large part of Mr. Rogozin's space strategy has been devoted to "the gradual empowerment of Russia in these areas, precisely to no longer need imports from abroad".

The consequences of the new sanctions are thus "difficult to assess immediately", she believes.

To China

A less dramatic consequence than a total and immediate cessation of cooperation could consist in the cancellation of the exchange of astronauts which was envisaged for the fall.

The idea is for a Russian cosmonaut to join the ISS aboard a SpaceX spacecraft, and a NASA astronaut in a Soyuz.

But Moscow has yet to formally approve the idea.

More broadly, the long-term future of the ISS could suffer from this crisis.

"The current situation, unless resolved quickly, could affect Russia's willingness to stay involved, or America's willingness to keep them involved," John Logsdon, a professor at the Space Policy Institute, told AFP. George Washington University.

The United States has said it wants to extend the ISS until 2030, but Russia is currently only committed until 2024.

And she declined to participate in the American Artemis program back on the Moon.

On the other hand, it announced that it wanted to build its own space station, as well as the joint construction of a lunar station, jointly with … China.

© 2022 AFP