Now that tensions are high over Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Republic of Crimea, Russia is threatening to cease US access to the International Space Station (ISS). Additionally, Russia plans to ban the US from purchasing rocket engines used to launch military satellites into space. This strategic political move comes in response to the US’s sanctions limiting exports to Russia. After the US Space Shuttle stopped operating in 2011, the only existing mode of traveling to the ISS is Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft, putting the power of the space race back in Russia’s hands. No one is quite sure how Russia will pull off its vow to stop carrying US astronauts to the ISS via Soyuz once 2020 rolls around. An alternative to the Space Shuttle, the SpaceX manned Dragon craft, is the most likely candidate since NASA’s Orion would not be ready for launch until 2021.
This decision comes at the tail end of a larger effort to revamp Russia’s space exploration efforts. President Vladimir Putin recently signed a declaration to split the Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) into two, forming a new organization. The state-run United Rocket and Space Corporation (URSC) will be in charge of rocket and space equipment production, including the development, creation, testing, technical servicing and utilization of military equipment, rockets and their components. On the other hand, Roscosmos will maintain the state contract, coordination and operation of its research institutes and ground infrastructures. By creating two institutions, Russia hopes to streamline production and improve quality control, putting an end to disastrous situations like last July’s proton rocket crash. Space related initiatives have received negative feedback in the past from the Russian Audit Chamber because the industry spends four times more than the global average on poor quality technology. Nonetheless, Russia still plans to pursue up to five lunar missions between 2015 and 2020 to examine the Moon’s surface resources.