Problems with Russia force private company to deemphasize ISS cameras

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UrtheCast has been forced to write off almost $8 million because it has not been able fully use its two cameras installed on the Russian half of ISS.

The Vancouver-based company said its was writing off some of the cameras’ value because of strained relations with their Russian hosts, who recently approached UrtheCast with a request to renegotiate their deal. Russian cosmonauts installed two UrtheCast cameras on the exterior of space station in 2014. The medium-resolution camera, called Theia, captures 50-kilometer swaths of multispectral imagery sharp enough to discern features 5-meters across. The high-resolution camera, called Iris, records ultra-high-def-quality, full-color video of the Earth and still images at a resolution of one meter per pixel. Iris entered service only last year due to technical issues.

Wade Larson, UrtheCast’s co-founder and chief executive, told investors during a Nov. 10 conference call that tensions between Russia and the U.S. and its allies are spilling over into UrtheCast’s agreement with the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, and Russia’s lead space station contractor RSC Energia. “There’s been some geopolitical challenges that have influenced this relationship and candidly … that has impacted our ability to task these cameras operationally,” Larson said.

In the long run, this is very bad for the Russians. It shows them to be an unreliable business partner, which will increasingly limit their ability to attract business from outside Russia.



  • LocalFluff

    That’s the big risk with international cooperation in space. The phenomena of international cooperation in space only exists because space is expensive and where there’s much money, the parasitic political flies gather. Similar problems don’t occur in pure business-to-business relationships across borders, as long as governments don’t get involved (which is rare). The problems don’t exist in the international scientific community, where no one cares about nationality (at least not in astronomy which is still a pretty unpolitical science).

    Anything expensive in space MUST be done nationally in order to eliminate most of the corruption and this kind of risk of purposeful sabotage because of some completely unrelated issue. Risk managers of space investment projects cannot possibly preemptively take into account what some rebels do in Eastern Ukraine, not in any other way than to say:
    -“Thank you, but no thank you, it isn’t worthwhile to get involved in this stuff.”
    (Btw, I think that we will see ESA collapse within a few years, which will be a good thing since national space agencies will be more productive.)

  • bob sykes

    This has nothing to do with business; it’s all about international relations. This is simply tit-for-tat in response to the sanctions and troop movements. Our relations with Russia have deteriorated to the point where people are contemplating actual war with Russia. The neocons are actively pushing for war, and if Clinton had been elected we most certainly will have gotten it. If Trump can normalize relations, which seems likely, these issues will go away.

    The degree of stupidity in the Obama foreign policy is astonishing. Six wars in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa. Openly hostile relations with both China and Russia, hostile to the point of driving China and Russia into an alliance. And the neocons want more of this.

  • wodun

    Perhaps I missed it in the article but it didn’t say why these problems actually exist. How is Russia blocking the use of the cameras?

  • Laurie

    I see Bob’s point; to the extent that the ‘renegotiation’ was due to geopolitical tensions, it was (hopefully) premature to undermine an otherwise unrelated agreement. That said, “it’s all connected.”

  • Edward

    LocalFluff wrote: “Anything expensive in space MUST be done nationally in order to eliminate most of the corruption”

    I’m not so sure that a national (governmental) effort would eliminate much corruption. Russia is prosecuting several people for corruption in at least one of its national efforts, the Vostochny Cosmodrome (spaceport).

    The US has been spending far too much money on SLS and Orion, after spending a lot on Constellation, which was willy nilly cancelled due to a not-invented-here attitude of the president. This may not be corruption, but it is terribly wasteful. National efforts are “corrupted” by politics. Politicians have an incentive to reward friends and punish enemies. Many politicians succumb to this incentive.

    Conversely companies have an incentive to do things efficiently and effectively.

    Large space projects can be accomplished by cooperative efforts by multiple companies. Several aerospace contracts have been bid and won by teams of companies, each with its own expertise to contribute to the team.

    Commercial projects are similar. Iridium originated as a consortium of three companies. OneWeb is a similar consortium.

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