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Sanctions on Russia could risk space business

July 21, 2014

The Malaysia aircraft catastrophe could result in a worsening of US-Russia relations, and severely damage upcoming satellite launch plans, as well as the manning and supply of the orbiting International Space Station.

The British government, along with the Dutch, Australian and Malaysian authorities are amongst those calling for tougher financial and business sanctions against Russia, already partly in place because of Russia’s support for Ukrainian rebels.

A month ago, there was concern that the Ukrainian situation could lead to a ban on use of the Russian built Proton rocket system, which would damage Russia financially. However, the US military also imports Russian-built rocket engines and last week a top US Air Force official told a US Senate hearing that the US should consider ending its reliance on using Russian-built engines for its military rocket launches. That advice was given ahead of the downing of the Malaysian jet.

A ruling was made in May that the US should immediately stop buying the giant Energomash RD-180 engines used in the Atlas 5 rocket, and those sanctions remain in place with Russia subsequently having turned the news on its head by saying it would no longer supply the engines.

Also likely to be affected if further sanctions are made is the US-headquartered, but Russian controlled, International Launch Services (ILS) which manages the international supply of the Proton rocket system – already much delayed because of rocket failures earlier this year.

The whole question of manning – and supply – to the International Space Station could also strain the current co-operation between Russia, the USA and other international space agencies. Back in April the Chairman of the (US) House Space Sub-committee cited budgetary limits for NASA as being one of the reasons why the ISS – and US/Russian relations – would be maintained under the current guidelines.  But that decision could also now be in doubt.

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