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Much has been made about the sanctions the Obama administration has imposed on any cooperation with Russia due to the situation in Ukraine and how those sanctions might damage the commercial and manned space efforts of the United States.
So far, all evidence has suggested that the sanctions have little teeth. The Obama administration exempted ISS from the sanctions. It also appears to be allowing the shipment of all commercial satellites to Russia for launch. Even a court injunction against using Russia rocket engines in U.S. military launches was lifted when the Obama administration asked the judge to do so.
The Russians now have responded. Why do I take their response more seriously?
Russia’s deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin, announced today that his country is banning the use of any Russia rocket enginess on an American military launch. Moreover, if the U.S. can’t guarantee that a launch will not have military applications, they will forbid delivery of the engine and will also forbid any maintenance on any engines already delivered to the U.S.
This ban effectively eliminates Lockheed Martin’s Atlas 5 rocket from future rocket launches. The company has a two year stockpile of Russian engines which they can probably make work, even without Russian help. After that, however, they are out of luck. It is unlikely they can build a replacement engine in that time.
In addition, Rogozin announced that unless the U.S. allows the establishment of Russian GPS stations on U.S. soil for its Glonass system, they will ban use of American GPS stations in Russia.
“We are suspending the work of these stations in Russian territory from June 1,” he said. Rogozin said that the American stations were deployed in Russia in line with the agreements signed in 1993 and 2011. “In accordance with these agreements, eleven GPS stations are located in ten Russian regions,” he said.
The deadline seems firm, which means that as of June 1 the U.S. GPS stations in Russia will be out of commission.
Finally, Rogozin also mentioned that Russia is also reconsidering its partnership with the U.S. on ISS, and has not decided whether it will extend that partnership past 2020, as requested by the U.S. Rogozin instead said that the Russian government is mulling a new approach to its space program.
All this is part of the renewed dominance of the Russian government. Having consolidated its control over the entire Russian aerospace industry, the government is now asserting its power and demanding that this industry do its bidding. Not only are they using that industry to hit back at the Obama administration for its weak-kneed sanctions, they are going to impose on that industry a more coherent long term program for space exploration, which I also suspect will exclude the U.S.
In the short term — ten to fifteen years — this consolidation and the imposition of a government imposed program will likely energize the Russian aerospace industry, giving it a more focused purpose. That success will cause many Americans to panic as they watch the Russias begin to assert itself in ways we have not seen since the 1960s.
In the long run, however, it will fail, just as the Soviet Union failed in 1991, as the typical bloated cooperate culture of big government programs begins to eat away at the industry’s efficiency, making it increasingly difficult for it to accomplish much of anything.
For the U.S. to intelligently compete with this new Russian effort we must resist the urge to copy them. The last thing we should do is to create our own national space program, with similar but competing goals, all controlled from Washington. Instead, we must continue what we have been doing for the past six years, continue the slow but steady transition back to a freedom-based competitive aerospace market, with private companies and private American citizens providing the leadership and ideas, not the government.
If we do that, we will easily stay ahead of the Russians. And we will get our nation into space far faster and with greater capability.