From trampolines to broomsticks: Russian space chief reacts to US sanctions

Dmitry Rogozin says the US can fly to orbit 'on brooms', as Roscosmos suspends supply of rocket engines to American companies

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Russia's space agency is responding aggressively to the sanctions imposed by the West over its invasion of Ukraine.

In a matter of days, space agency Roscosmos has suspended its Soyuz rocket launches from the European spaceport in French Guiana and suspended the supply of rocket engines to the US, with Russia’s space chief Dmitry Rogozin saying that the US can go to orbit “on their brooms”.

It also announced that it would no longer be doing joint scientific experiments with Germany on the International Space Station, which has been shielded from political struggles since it went into orbit 20 years ago.

US President Joe Biden had said he would place some of the toughest sanctions on Russia, which would “degrade its aerospace industry, including its space programme”.

Since then, Japan and the EU – both partners on the space station – have also imposed sanctions on Russia.

"In this situation, we can no longer supply the US with our rocket engines that are the best in the world, let them fly on something else, like their brooms, or whatever. But at least we are freezing our shipments," Mr Rogozin said on the Russian Rossiya-24 television channel on Thursday.

Billionaire Elon Musk was quick to deride the comments, tweeting "American Broomstick" along with a video of his SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launching Starlink satellites into orbit.

For nine years the US relied on Russia's Soyuz rockets to launch its astronauts after its Space Shuttle programme disbanded in 2011. But SpaceX's partnership with Nasa has helped to return the launch of astronauts from US soil again.

In 2014, Mr Rogozin famously said that Nasa can launch its astronauts “on trampolines”, after the US imposed sanctions on Russia for its annexation of Crimea.

More recently, Mr Rogozin said that his country would no longer supply the US with RD-180 engines, which power United Launch Alliance’s Atlas C rocket.

It would also not provide the RD-181 engines that power the Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket.

On Wednesday, Mr Rogozin released a video that showed the agency covering up the US and Japanese flags on its Soyuz rocket.

“The launchers at Baikonur decided that, without the flags of some countries, our rocket would look more beautiful,” he tweeted.

Russia is also refusing to launch the OneWeb satellites, which belong to a London satellite start-up that is aiming for global internet connectivity, a major competitor to Mr Musk’s Starlink satellite network.

A Soyuz rocket was meant to carry 36 internet satellites on Friday from the Russia-owned Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Mr Rogozin has given an ultimatum to the company, asking it to sever ties with the UK government if it wants the launch to go ahead.

“We demand to provide comprehensive legal guarantees that OneWeb will not use these satellites for military purpose and will not provide these services to the relevant military departments,” Mr Rogozin said on Rossiya-24.

“If we will not receive such confirmations from our partners, the rocket will be removed from the launch and the satellites will be sent to the assembly centre.”

But OneWeb has refused his demands and chosen to suspend all launches from Baikonur.

With recent events, Russia has decided to shift focus to developing defence satellites in future.

Roscosmos also announced plans to develop a weather satellite constellation, in case Russia is no longer allowed to use data from American and European satellites.

The Soviet Union was the first country to put a man in orbit, and its space programme has been a thing of national pride since then.

In recent years, however, Russia's space programme is becoming dated as the US speeds ahead with reusable rockets, a thriving commercial space sector and space science breakthroughs.

Now, as Russia continues to isolate itself in space, there may be many more challenges ahead for the country's once very popular space programme.

Updated: March 04, 2022, 10:22 AM
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