How Sanctions on Russia Affect International Space Programs

Roscosmos is severing ties with global partners in response to restrictions

An image of the International Space Station taken from the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour during a fly around.
Russia controls aspects of the ISS's propulsion control systems that keep it in place and from falling towards Earth. The space station started out as a partnership between the United States and Russia. NASA

Russia's invasion of Ukraine is damaging long-standing international partnerships in space exploration. 

Last week, Russia's space program announced it would halt selling rocket engines to the United States. The move is the Russian space agency's latest in various retaliatory responses towards Western sanctions placed on the country since its invasion of Ukraine, reports Becky Ferreira for Vice.

"In a situation like this, we can't supply the United States with our world's best rocket engines," Dmitry Rogozin, director general of Roscosmos, said on the television channel Russia-24, Reuters reports. "Let them fly on something else—their broomsticks—I don't know what."

After Moscow invaded Ukraine on February 24, President Joe Biden placed sanctions that included blocking exports on technology and restrictions on Russian banks, reported Kevin Liptak for CNN. Russia has delivered 122 RD-180 engines to the United States since the 1990s. According to Reuters, the U.S. used 98 of these engines to power Atlas launch vehicles. 

Rogozin responded to the sanctions on Twitter by threatening to stop cooperation on the International Space Station (ISS), reports CNN's Kristen Fisher. Russia manages the space station's propulsion control systems that keep it in orbit, Rogozin—who is known for hyperbolic retorts—implied the country could allow the ISS to crash into Earth, reports Rebecca Heilweil for Vox. The rising tension could call the post-Cold War era of space exploration collaboration between Russia and the U.S. into question, per Vox.

However, Kathy Lueders, who leads NASA's human spaceflight program, said Roscosmos and NASA's partnerships are continuing as usual, reported Michael Sheets for CNBC News

On Thursday, Roscosomos took to Twitter to announce it would be ending all collaborative ties with Germany after the country's space center, DLR, released a statement condemning Russia's attacks on Ukraine.

"Violence should never be a means to achieve objectives of any kind. We, therefore, view the developments in Ukraine with grave concern and condemn Russia's hostile actions," the DLR explains in the statement.

Roscosmos stated on Twitter last week that all joint experiments previously planned on the ISS will now be conducted independently and Russian space programs will be adjusted for the sanctions placed by multiple countries after the invasion of Ukraine. Roscosmos also said it would focus on creating satellites for defense purposes, per Reuters.

A planned internet satellite launch from OneWeb, a company partially owned by the British Government, was cancelled after Russia demanded the satellites not be used for military purposes. In response, OneWeb suspended all future launches aboard Soyuz rockets, reports Mike Wall for Space.com. Since 2019, the company has launched 400 satellites aboard Russian rockets since 2019, Joey Roulette for the New York Times reports.

"It's not encouraging that Russia's space agency is self-isolating," Victoria Samson, a space policy analyst at the Secure World Foundation, tells the Times. "Maybe this is Russia expediting the death of connections that might be happening in due time anyway. But now it's being done on their terms."