The new colonial movement: The head of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, yesterday announced during a speech at a virtual international space conference that Russia is mostly bowing out of participation in the U.S. lunar Gateway space station project, and will instead seek cooperation with China’s lunar program.
Russia apparently does not like the fact that the U.S. is insisting on taking a lead role in Gateway, and have it designed to primarily meet U.S. goals. Russia has also previously expressed opposition to the Trump administration’s insistence that any partners in Gateway sign the Artemis Accords, designed to provide legal protection for any private investment in space.
Whether they can get the deal they want from China remains very uncertain. China has made it clear they are willing to work with other partners, but China has also made it clear that they — like the U.S. — have their own goals in space, and that anything they do must serve those goals.
In his response, Bridenstine focused on the areas of agreement with Russia (establishing technical standards), but reiterated the U.S.’s commitment to the Artemis Accords. It is clear the Trump administration is fine with Russia’s decision.
For the U.S. Russia’s decision is probably a good thing. It leaves the way open to do what we want, without having to negotiate every decision. (This puts aside the issue on whether Gateway itself is a good decision.)
For Russia this announcement means they are really on their own for the first time since the Soviet era. Following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 Russia has largely been incapable of developing any new space project, and has needed to link its effort to the U.S. and ISS in order to be able to accomplish much of anything. Breaking free might actually benefit them, as the competition will force them to focus on their own efforts and actually achieve something.
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