Does the Russians' departure from the International Station mean a new Cold War in space?

Last week, the Russian space agency Roscosmos reiterated its intention to leave the International Space Station (ISS), and the dates provided by Moscow caused great repercussion: at first, there was talk of a withdrawal “after 2024”, which generated interpretations in the press of an exit in the very near future.

However, the agency then clarified that it will only withdraw from the project when its own space station, Ross, has the first modules completed – which should happen around of 2028.

The ISS, administered by Russia, United States, Japan, Canada and 11 countries in Europe, it was launched in 1998 and became a kind of post -Cold War, for bringing together specialists from countries that were rivals for decades in the space race to do research in the area.

In this way, comments on the Russian exit, when relate them The country’s relations with the West are at their worst since the end of the Soviet Union due to the war in Ukraine, they have been seen as another side effect of the conflict.

However , Júnior Miranda, a specialist in space history and author of the blog Homem do Espaço, pointed out that the version that Russia announced its departure from the ISS only because of the sanctions it suffered is a “Western media narrative” and that the country has already talking about its withdrawal more than five years ago for technical reasons: material fatigue of the two main modules of the Russian segment, Zarya and Zvezda, built in the decades of 15 and 15.

“Russia felt the need to create a new space station, already thought for several years, which would allow more immediate objectives for the Russian economy to be achieved, for example: observation of Russian territory from orbit. Currently, with the ISS, only a small part is visible from the station’s orbital inclination”, explained Miranda.

Regarding a new “Space Cold War ”, the expert said that the rivalry between the United States and Russia in the area has never ended. Miranda pointed out that the Americans have benefited from Russian experience in the space area, obtaining political, economic and technological gains, as well as keeping Russian experts “under control”, so that they do not migrate to US rivals such as Iran, North Korea and China. .

The Russians already obtained continuous contributions of money and managed to implement a space station, a difficult goal for the country at the end of the years 1990. However, they have never ceased to be viewed with “distrust”, stated Miranda.

“It is not that the space race will be reborn, it has always happened in a veiled way, and now depending on the condition that Russia has to implement Ross, it is possible that there will be a comparison”, said the expert.

“The detail is that Ross does not will be permanently manned, it will be visited periodically. What can be most evident in terms of a space race, a rivalry, will be between the West and China, which has a permanently manned space station already in operation”, added Miranda, who highlighted that the Russian focus today is on on satellites and not on manned space flights.

The expert added that the ISS cannot continue without Russia because the propulsion system, which keeps the station in orbit , is relegated to the Russian segment.

“Something could be done to get around this, if the Americans can get another means of orbital maintenance, but that would take a long time to development and adaptation. Most likely, the agreement will be maintained, the period of 2030 for the deactivation of the station, and that things will continue in a very hypocritical way until then”, concluded Miranda.

Space race

José Vagner Vital, reserve air brigadier, coordinator of the Aerospace Committee of the National Union of Defense Material Industries (Simde) and director of innovation and business at Saipher company, agrees that the Russian decision to leave the ISS has no direct link to the war in Ukraine.

“The ISS was designed for a certain period. The first module, which is Russian, the propulsion one, is designed for 15 years of useful life and is ‘stretching’. Astronauts and cosmonauts already spend more time looking for flaws to fix than doing the experiments that are the station’s raison d’être,” he justified. “Americans sought buy-in from partners to extend up until 2030. The others are in agreement, but Russia already had plans to make the station itself.”

Vital emphasized that another argument is that Russia has already exhausted the experiments in which was interested in the tilt level of the ISS.

“The Russians want a larger, polar tilt to do experiments at a higher radiation level. They also spend a lot of money on the ISS and don’t see much value in maintaining a manned mission, they prefer to keep an automated module that would be visited to make adjustments but wouldn’t stay around all the time [com tripulantes]. This would make it possible to carry out experiments that are not possible today on the ISS”, explained the specialist.

“And they also want Ross to be a kind of spaceport, for make repairs to other automated spacecraft that can after 2030 be docked, re-equip, or even become a module that can even support missions to the Moon or Mars”, added Vital, remembering that the Americans themselves are not foreseeing an international station after 2030 – the idea is that it will be replaced by private projects.

“It is natural for them [russos] to look for an alternative. And they are not isolated, China launched hers, India will launch its”, explained the specialist.

In this sense, Vital believes that it will not be possible to talk in a new “Space Cold War” in the traditional sense United States against Russia, since investments for the military occupation of space are being made by different countries and this race must reflect disputes that already occur in other fields.

“Today there is a multipolar environment, with many military and economic powers emerging, with less American control, when the Swift [sistema global de comunicação de transações bancárias] is no longer used by an important part of the countries. It won’t be the same as it was until the years 15. Space is just another domain of combat, which Brazil does not use. We are completely out of it,” he warned.

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