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How the Ukraine invasion could disrupt international cooperation in space

A large rocket lays on its side, on a trailer. It says "Antares" and sports a US flag.
NASA/Bill Ingalls
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(NASA/Bill Ingalls)
The Orbital ATK Antares rocket, with the Cygnus spacecraft onboard, is rolled out of the Horizontal Integration Facility.

From Texas Standard:

As Russia and the United States find themselves at odds over Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the space initiatives of which both countries are a part, including the International Space Station, or ISS, continue. But what could change if the invasion, and sanctions related to it, continue?

Eric Berger is senior space editor at Ars Technica. He told Texas Standard that in addition to the ISS, Russia provides engines for two U.S. rockets and it has already pulled out of a European spaceport project in which it has been participating.

"We've already seen some pretty significant effects between Russia and Europe, which had a number of programs, and there were actually some European science missions launching on Russian rockets, and those have been basically set aside now. Pretty dramatic," Berger said.

Berger says NASA is continuing to work with Russia and the other countries that are part of the ISS project. American astronaut Mark Vande Hei is currently on the space station, and is due to return to Earth on a Russian spacecraft and land in Kazakhstan when his mission ends next month.

"I think it would probably take a shooting war before things got sketchy on the International Space Station," Berger said.

He says it's in the interest of both Russia and the United States that the space station continues flying.

Russia produces engines for two American rockets, the United Launch Alliance Atlas V and the Antares rocket, which delivers supplies to the ISS. Berger says all Atlas V rockets have been delivered, so conflict with Russia won't affect planned launches.

Ukraine, too, produces rockets, and has signed the Artemis Accords, the agreements under which NASA hopes to return to the Moon.

"They have a very storied history of producing rocket engines," Berger said. "They have partnerships with U.S. and with European companies for four rocket engines."

Berger says it's currently unclear whether a rocket production facility in western Ukraine has been damaged by Russian attacks.