The hole drilled in the lining of the Soyuz spacecraft and the depressurization of the International Space Station is a technical problem, which every day more and more turns into a political one. The secrecy of information from Russian space structures is replaced by anonymous "sources in the industry." Messages are not confirmed by anything, but the facts contradict each other. They have already spoken so much that astronauts themselves give refutations directly from orbit.
Cooperation in space is threatened not so much by depressurization itself, but by the atmosphere of distrust that publications in the media generate. The version that the hole in the spacecraft was drilled already in orbit was first expressed on September 3 by the head of Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin. He did not specify who drilled, but journalists rushed to discuss what prompted the Russian astronauts to this crazy step. A “high-ranking source” of the Kommersant newspaper on September 12 suspected foreign astronauts of sabotage. They say that foreigners could sneak into the Soyuz spacecraft closest to the American segment of the ISS and make a hole to urgently evacuate their ill colleague.The scenario is unbelievable because the regulations provide for emergency evacuation without self-destructive sabotage on the territory of another state.
The same anonymous “high-ranking sources” report that Roscosmos requested astronauts' biometric data from NASA, but the Americans refused because of medical confidentiality. The official position of NASA, coordinated with Roskosmos, is that no comments should be given until the investigation is completed. Probably, we will hear some preliminary results only on October 10, when heads of Roscosmos and NASA Dmitry Rogozin and Jim Briidenstein will meet at Baikonur.
Events in space take place against the backdrop of a scandalous investigation into the case of Skripale, accompanied by noise in the press. The accusation of NASA astronauts sounds almost like an otvetka to the generalized West, which at the same time removes suspicions from the quality of Russian technology.
At the same time, Soyuz today is the only means of delivery to the ISS. Roscosmos services are used by Americans, Canadians, Japanese, Europeans. Two future astronauts from the United Arab Emirates are preparing for flight.Soyuz has been successfully delivering people to orbit for several decades. The last life-threatening incident with the Soyuz was in 1983, when a rocket exploded on the launch pad. Then a capsule with people pulled out of the fire emergency rescue system, no one was hurt.
However, the events of recent years have shown that the Russian manned cosmonautics is not perfect. Three times (in 2011, 2015 and 2016), after 40 years of trouble-free operation, Progress cargo ships fell. The design of these ships is in many respects unified with the "Unions", they use missiles of the same family.
In 2015, the “Union” did not reveal one of the solar panels. In the same year, the automatic docking system crashed, and the astronaut had to dock manually. In 2017, the Soyuz capsule depressurized during landing from a parachute karabiner strike. Each time the threat to the life of the crew was not due to multiple redundancy systems. However, all incidents were actively discussed in the United States, where not only NASA, but also the Senate are experiencing the safety of astronauts. Caring for the lives of citizens is actively used by industrial lobbyists who would like to replace "Unions" with their Dragon, Starliner and Orion.
Today, the Russian and American segments cannot technically be exploited separately, so the political and economic interests of both sides do not allow in the direct sense to sever relations. The American segment depends on the Russian rocket engines installed on the Zvezda module and on the Progress ships, and the Russian segment depends on the American orientation gyrodynes and solar batteries. Although the parties are gradually preparing for separation: Roskosmos plans to launch MLM and NEM modules, which should cover the need for energy and orientation systems. NASA is training to use its truck rocket engines. However, these attempts are rather indecisive on both sides. The launch of MLM has been postponed for more than 10 years, the NEM will also not fly before 2022.
How it all began
The project of the International Space Station was born in the 90s. from the American project Freedom, to which Soviet and post-Soviet developments on the Mir-2 station were added. This saved the Russian manned cosmonautics, for which a new job was found, largely paid for by the American side.Over the 20 years of the ISS flight, Russia spent about $ 12 billion on the project, but at the same time received about $ 4.2 billion from NASA for the production of modules, life support systems and the delivery of crews. The United States paid Russia for the experience of long space missions and for the non-proliferation of rocket technologies. Politically, America has demonstrated the support of a young state that has embarked on the path of democratic reforms.
The current agreement on the sharing of the ISS is valid until 2024. Further future has not yet been determined, although the station resource allows the flight to continue until the end of the 20s. Scientists and engineers, cosmonauts and astronauts are ready to continue their work, but politics is increasingly interfering in cooperation, and the flight continues in spite of, and not because of, how it once was. Now from the rash decisions keeps the high cost of the station. Roscosmos understands that it will not pull its own station at its own expense. The United States cannot abandon a project in which they have invested about $ 100 billion. But if the safety of the crew is at stake - as happened in the case of depressurization - the money can be relegated to the background.
Together to the moon?
Under threat are also plans to create a joint LunarOrbital Platform (Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, abbreviated as LOP-G) is a small, visited station in lunar orbit. The goal of the United States in this project is "the approval of American superiority in the near-moon space". This refers to the anticipation of China, which plans in the 1920s. launch its multi-module near-earth station. The United States invites all former partners on the ISS to the lunar station project, but in the mode of subcontractors who will only help achieve their goals. Of course, Roscosmos does not want to invest in American greatness. NASA, in contrast to the 90s, does not offer Russia any benefits.
Russia does not have its own means of delivery to the near-moon space. Interplanetary ship "Federation" can not get out of the stage of drawings and exhibition layouts, super heavy rocket capable of delivering the "Federation" to the Moon will not appear before 2028 (at best). That is, Roskosmos has nothing to offer to the project on an equal footing with the United States, which are far advanced in the creation of the super heavy SLS rocket and the Orion spacecraft. Now Roskosmos can only count on a place in the general row of builders of the lunar station, along with Canada, Japan, the European Union and private companies, but even this can be hindered by political pride.Although cooperation with the United States and participation in the LOP-G project is the only way to see a Russian in the vicinity of the Moon in the next decade, even on an American ship.
Russia's economic situation will not allow it to independently send astronauts to the moon. There is hope for its own near-Earth station, collected from the remnants of the ISS after 2024, but in the current political and economic situation, a demonstrative move to a Chinese station is more real. The ideas of creating a kind of joint station of the BRICS countries run into the absence of any interest in such a station from anyone other than Russia.
Cooperation between Russia and the United States in space has made it possible to achieve outstanding results: build a giant space station in orbit, conduct thousands of experiments, and accumulate important information necessary for further space exploration. Today's political turmoil threatens future cooperation and hinders the emergence of new joint projects. Politicians at the head of space agencies only increase the risk of discord for ideological reasons.
Prepared for The Insider, published with some copyright edits.
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