In a decision that is more symbolic than substantive, NASA confirmed late Wednesday that it is suspending cooperation with the Russian government, with the very large exception of operations of the International Space Station (ISS).
“Given Russia’s ongoing violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, NASA is suspending the majority of its ongoing engagements with the Russian Federation,” NASA announced in a one-paragraph statement that was issued, oddly enough, through the agency’s Google+ account, rather than posted to the agency’s website. “NASA and Roscosmos will, however, continue to work together to maintain safe and continuous operation of the International Space Station.”
The statement came several hours after a NASA internal memo leaked out announcing the halt in non-ISS cooperation. “This suspension includes NASA travel to Russia and visits by Russian Government representatives to NASA facilities, bilateral meetings, email, and teleconferences or videoconferences,” wrote Michael F. O’Brien, associate administrator for international and interagency relations, in the memo. While that statement said NASA was suspending “the majority of its ongoing engagements,” the O’Brien memo stated that “all NASA contacts with Russian Government representatives are suspended, unless the activity has been specifically excepted,” with ISS operations the only stated exception in the memo.
That decision, though, may be less severe than it sounds, since there’s little cooperation between NASA and Russian government agencies outside of the ISS partnership. Neither the memo nor the statement enumerated the specific programs affected by the decision. There are Russian instruments on a few NASA spacecraft, including the Curiosity Mars rover (DAN) and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LEND). An undated document on the US Embassy in Moscow’s website, apparently from some time between 2006 and 2008, lists several other minor areas of NASA-Russia cooperation in earth sciences, many of which may no longer be active. (Update: also potentially affected by the ban is US cooperation on ExoMars, the former ESA-NASA Mars program that, after NASA dropped out, became an ESA-Russian program, although with NASA still involved at a much lower level; and a joint NASA-Russian science definition team for Russia’s Venera-D Venus mission.)
Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin did not sound impressed by the suspension of non-ISS cooperation between NASA and Russia. “Yet, apart from over the ISS we didn’t cooperate with NASA anyway,” he said in a tweet early Thursday.
A more serious move involving space-related efforts between the US and Russia quietly took place late last week, when the State Department announced that it “has placed a hold on the issuance of licenses that would authorize the export of defense articles and defense services to Russia,” according to a brief statement on the website of the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls. Since satellites and related components are, for the time being, still on the US Munitions List, this move would block the export of such items to Russia, including commercial communications satellites to be launched from Russian facilities.