International Space Station (ISS) : Russia’s role and impact of Ukraine crisis – UPSC GS3

Context: Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos argued that US sanctions on Russia could disrupt the functioning of the Russian spacecraft that serviced the International Space Station.
What is Russia’s role in maintaining the ISS?
  • The International Space Station (ISS) is being developed with the help of scientists from five international space agencies: NASA, Roscosmos, JAXA, the Canadian Space Agency, and the European Space Agency.
  • Every agency has a role to play and a stake in the ISS’s maintenance.
  • The module responsible for performing course corrections in the ISS’s orbit is part of Russia’s contribution to the partnership.
  • Russia also transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
Impact of US Sanctions on ISS Functioning:
  • The U.S. imposed sanctions on Russia including a ban on transfer of technology and on Russian banks following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
  • The Russian space agency Roscosmos threatened not to cooperate with Germany on joint experiments in the Russian segment of the International Space Station.
  • This could affect the Russian component of the ISS, which is responsible for correcting the ISS’s orbit.
  • The Russian section guarantees that the space station’s orbit is corrected 11 times a year to keep it clear of space debris.
  • The ISS would most likely crash into the water or land if it did not function properly.
Why does the orbit of the ISS need to be corrected?
  • The ISS sinks from its orbit at a height of around 250 miles above the Earth due to its massive weight and resulting drag.
  • It needs to be moved up to its original line of motion around once a month.
  • Another reason for changing the ISS’s direction is to prevent colliding with space debris, which could cause damage to the station.
Are there any spacecraft that could be used in the event that Russia withdraws from the effort?
  • Right now, there are two options. The Dragon module from SpaceX and the Starliner from Boeing are both capable of docking with the International Space Station. The Starliner can also transport 10 tonnes of fuel.
What is the likelihood of Russia backing out?
  • Though there have been previous occasions when conflicts have risen between Russia and the U.S the operation of the ISS has not been interrupted.
  • “Going by the scientists’ mindset and that such a significant global effort must not go down the drain, scientists from both sides are expected to work together.