The end of the US-Russian collaboration in space

Russia, America’s longtime partner in space, is turning to China for its lunar ambitions.

Because it is important: The United States and Russia have been uneasy partners in orbit for decades, but as the two become further apart in space, their rift could reshape the geopolitical landscape on and on Earth for years to come.

  • “We are not going to see the same level of cooperation between the United States and Russia, compared to what we saw in the 1990s … when Russia was bankrupt, going through an economic catastrophe after the collapse of the Soviet bloc and was desperate.” space policy expert Bleddyn Bowen told me.

Driving the news: Last week, China and Russia signed an agreement to work together to develop a lunar research station on or in orbit around the Moon, allying Russia with a nation many see as opposed to US interests in space. .

  • The memorandum of understanding comes after Russia refused to sign NASA’s Artemis Accords governing international cooperation and use of the Moon, and after a Russian official criticized NASA’s plans to build a small space station in lunar orbit.
  • Russia was initially expected to provide an airlock for the small lunar space station, which is part of NASA’s plans to get people to the Moon, but now “NASA will look at other options for the supplier of the airlock. “NASA said in a statement. .

The backstory: Space relations between the United States and Russia began to deteriorate in the early 2010s when Russia annexed Crimea.

  • The two countries’ space programs kept them talking via the International Space Station, but since then, Russia’s public stance toward the United States on space issues has changed, experts say.
  • “We saw a marked change in the way Russians interacted in multilateral space forums,” Brian Weeden of the Safe World Foundation told me. There was “a marked increase in the hostility of their language against almost everything that the United States proposed.”

The intrigue: China’s space program and industry are booming, with government support and a long-term vision of what the nation hopes to achieve. Russia’s star, on the other hand, is fading.

  • Russia is losing a major source of revenue as SpaceX brings astronauts to the space station, ending NASA’s reliance on the Russian-made Soyuz rocket.
  • This partnership with China will allow Russia to work with a rising nation when it comes to space, while China will build on Russia’s established technical acumen.

As important, if not more, the two powers together will exercise a geopolitical weight in the formulation of international space policy.

  • As Europe, Canada, Japan and others are already partnering with the US In their plans for the Moon, this partnership between Russia and China could gain support from other nations, if the two nations decide they want partners as well.

What to see: It’s unclear how high a priority the Russia-China lunar research station will have as China works to build its own space station in orbit around Earth in the coming years.

  • The division of labor for the two nations has not been established and a clear funding source has not yet been announced.
  • And experts say the door is not necessarily closed for the United States and Russia to partner with each other in space in the future.


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