Will Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Cause a Space War?
Geopolitical dynamics linked to the invasion of Ukraine and which have lasted a year could jeopardize international space exploration projects such as sending the first humans to Mars, experts fear.
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“I don’t believe that International Space Station (ISS) astronauts are in danger, but the current political situation makes people think. This will definitely lead partners to rethink major international projects”, said Philippe Henarejos, editor-in-chief Sky and Spacemagazine devoted to natural sciences.
Currently there are three Russians, three Americans and a Japanese at the station. They make up 68e The ISS crew, whose mission is to better understand life without weight. Even if research and maintenance work in outer space is apolitical, the situation on Earth must have an impact in this confined space.
Immediately after the war in Ukraine began, Russia – which had greatly reduced its scientific budget under Vladimir Putin – announced it was withdrawing from the International Space Station for next year. It was clear that a year later, the situation on Earth between the two countries had not improved.
Major projects compromised?
The international situation could jeopardize major space exploration projects, says astrophysicist Robert Lamontagne.
“Take a manned flight to the planet Mars. A project that seemed possible before the invasion of Ukraine. For such a project to be successful, it requires a lot of money and the same intention. I don’t see how that could happen if the main countries involved in space exploration didn’t cooperate,” he said.
As a newcomer to space exploration, China participated in the reconquest of the Moon, but did so independently, without assistance from the West. The positioning of the Chinese space station, which was finalized three months ago (see other text), is further proof that it wants to stand out and, above all, go it alone.
Who did what?
On the ISS, everyone has their own duties. The Russian crew, for example, is responsible for keeping history’s largest spacecraft on a true axis. If he stops doing this work, the station could go into “uncontrolled de-orbiting” and crash “in the United States or Europe”, as Dmitry Rogozin, former boss of Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, put it.
He underlined this risk on February 24, 2022 after a meeting with President Putin.
An uncontrolled fall of the Station is a theoretical possibility, but precautions will be taken to avoid it, said Mr. Lamontagne. “The people there are professional. They may discuss political situations, but avoid disputes. A little like our family dinners in Quebec, where we avoided talking politics during the referendum campaign.
At the Canadian Space Agency, we are reassuring. “International Space Station operations are continuing as normal,” said spokeswoman Sarah Berjaoui, adding that the priority was ensuring the safety of the crew.
However, it is hard to ignore that Canada finances Ukraine with millions of dollars and imposes tough economic sanctions on Russia. Canadian Department of Innovation, Science and Technology and Business Canada explained to Notes that Canada will continue to apply sanctions “against key members of Putin’s inner circle and against entities and individuals who directly or indirectly support Russia’s illegal actions.”
Canada “continues to monitor the situation and, as long as Russia continues its war of aggression on Ukraine, we will continue to apply sanctions to increase pressure”, the spokesperson explained by email.
China is winning in the space race
China has stood out more than any other country in recent decades when it comes to space exploration, one expert says.
“I even predict that the next human to set foot on lunar soil will be a Chinese, and that will be a woman,” said Olivier Hernandez, director of the Montreal Planetarium.
In addition to the seizure of the Moon, China has doubled down on satellite launches in 2021 and 2022.uh November 2022, Chinese space station. It took only 17 months to build the base which NASA and its partners took 22 years to complete.
The younger sister of the International Space Station which has been permanently occupied since 2000, the Chinese station has received three taikonauts* since 2021. It consists of three 60-ton modules, while there are 16 420-ton modules on the ISS.
While the ISS is the result of a collaboration of about fifteen countries, including Canada, the Chinese space station displays only one flag, namely the People’s Republic of China.
Despite this technological prowess, is there any good science to these two space stations? “There have been many experiments on the effects of microgravity on the human body, which will prove useful in extended missions to Mars. But there is more to politics than real scientific breakthroughs in these projects,” admits Mr. Hernandez.
As a doctoral degree holder in physics, he believes research budgets should target unmanned missions or next-generation telescopes that can tell us more about the universe.
Russia has stated its intention to look more to China for its space program. But China is not necessarily interested in this cooperation, Russia’s scientific budget is almost empty due to two main factors: Putin’s disinterest in such big projects and the war effort that is draining the national economy.
Astronaut, cosmonaut, taikonaut, astronaut…
People who train to fly in space outside of Earth’s gravity go by different names depending on their country of origin. The astronauts are American, the cosmonauts are Russian (formerly Soviet), the astronauts are French, and the taikonauts are Chinese.