ESA: In space, Russia needs us and we need her

The European Space Agency ( ESA ) considers Russia necessary for space exploration. Now, after suspending operations with Roscosmos, he will approach NASA.

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After the European Space Agency ( ESA ) suspended its cooperation with the Russian Roscosmos on the Exomars mission to Mars , its director general, Josef Aschbacher, does  not question the joint work on the International Space Station ( ISS ) : ” Russia needs and we need Russia .”

The ISS , the largest infrastructure that humans have launched into space, is also participated in by the American agency (NASA), the Japanese (JAXA) and the Canadian (CSA), and the leaders of Roscosmos have warned of the repercussions that may have for that project the sanctions imposed on his country for the war in Ukraine.

Before a group of international media, Aschbacher said he takes the threat seriously, in the face of which he keeps a cool head so as not to react to provocations released by Twitter, according to which the station could fall.

On the ISS , there are currently two Roscosmos cosmonauts , four from NASA and one European, the German Matthias Maurer, and this Friday three other Russian astronauts departed from the Russian Baikonur Cosmodrome, in the Kazakh steppe .

In these facilities, according to Aschbacher, the current geopolitical tensions have not had an impact.

“Astronauts are trained for all kinds of emergencies. They really work as a team . They have to do experiments and maintain the station. There’s quite a lot of hard work to do every day and they’re quite busy with it. Of course you’ve heard the news, but It’s different there.”

Future break

The  ISS is, at the moment, the only point of active cooperation between ESA and Roscosmos , after the Council of the European agency decided to suspend the mission to Mars due to the practical and political impossibility of maintaining the launch of its robot this September explorer.

That break followed Roscosmos ‘ decision to withdraw its staff from the European spaceport in French Guiana, forcing it to seek alternatives for missions to launch from there with a Russian Soyuz rocket .

If the global situation were to be fixed quickly, according to Aschbacher, the next launch opportunity would come in 2024, but that’s a possibility he sees as unrealistic. “And if we don’t launch with Russia the next closest date would be 2026 or 2028.”

The Rosalind Franklin rover was going to be launched to take and study samples of the Martian soil, but both in that robot and in the lander and in the shuttle there was Russian technology, which now has to be seen how to replace it.

“We have to go element by element and see the alternatives to replace it with a European one, which in most cases would be possible, or with the help of the United States, which has offered its support. We must carry out a detailed analysis of the compatibility and obviously its cost”, pointed out the ESA leader.

It could even lead to the complete cancellation of the mission. In the medium term, the ESA Member States must study the options to continue Exomars and, if they go ahead, prepare the new industrial plan with which to carry it out.

For Aschbacher, this situation should serve Europe to strengthen its strategic autonomy in space: “I hope that the European space sector will come out of this crisis stronger because we see that certain investments are needed to make it more resilient.”

ESA ‘s director general also anticipates further collaboration with NASA, which carries the weight of the western bloc on the ISS.

“The war in Ukraine is bringing European partners closer to each other, but also to NASA. I anticipate that this will result in the strengthening of cooperation that is already very strong,” said Aschbacher, who stated that he communicates in writing with his Russian counterpart but that neither a meeting nor a conversation with him is planned.