NASA, Other

European Mars mission caught in US-Russia tensions

Since the start of the Ukraine criss, the United States and Russia have exchanged space-related sanctions and other measures in recent weeks. Canada, meanwhile, pulled several small satellites that were scheduled to launch in June on a Soyuz. (Russia has subsequently delayed the overall launch for “organizational reasons.”)

Europe has not followed, though, in part because of its closer ties with Russia’s space program, such as the joint ExoMars program that features a 2016 orbiter mission and a 2018 rover mission. Speaking at the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG) meeting in Washington on Tuesday, Rolf de Groot of the European Space Agency said that, so far, the crisis has not affected that cooperation. “Our member states have not instructed us to tone down on our cooperation with Russia,” he said. “It might obviously be different if the European Commission started intervening in this process, but for now, there’s no pressure.”

However, US-Russia actions are having an effect on the 2016 orbiter, he said. The State Department is reviewing all export licenses to Russia, which has the potential to delay the mission’s US-provided components, a complication for a mission that currently has limited slack in its schedule. “The effects of this on ExoMars are still to be determined,” he said, adding that ESA is working with NASA’s international relations office to convince the State Department to approve the license. “This needs to be resolved within a few weeks because that’s all the margin we still have in the schedule. We hope that with a little bit of help from NASA, we can find a solution for the 2016 mission.”

Ironically, this became an issue only because of NASA’s decision in 2012 to terminate its original partnership with ESA on ExoMars. That forced ESA to turn to Russia to become a partner on the mission.

22 comments to European Mars mission caught in US-Russia tensions

  • reader

    Poor headline. It ought to be world-Russia tensions – unless EU stopped giving a f**k about Ukraine

    • amightywind

      Indeed. Europe’s behavior in this crisis has been shameful. The German’s are far more worried about their gas deals with Putin, and the French their warship exports, then they are about economic and political development in the Ukraine.

  • The renewal of space rivalry between US and Russia might be a good thing.

    Putin has defined the mission as Mar and Lunar Base. US hasn’t been able to do that, pick a mission. Putin has done that for us. Congress now has a mission and reason to fund NASA properly. US has relatively good assets, capabilities and near-term capabilities.

    Moon Base and Mars Landing?

    Are we a race with Russia?

    • Neil

      No, their level of technology and industrial base is insufficient to enable this type of mission for the forseeable future. They haven’t designed or built anything new in decades just like NASA however at least NASA has managed to support commercial efforts which have.

    • @sftommy;…….I agree that SOME kind of rivalry between the U.S. & Russia could be beneficial in the longer run. While Russia has NEVER done a manned Moon mission before——NOT even to Lunar orbit——-perhaps it might be pursuaded to quit with the LEO station reindeer games, and get serious about building a Heavy Lift rocket of its own, and begin sending their Soyuz craft into a Lunar trajectory. After all, fourty-plus years ago, THAT was the original game plan for the Soyuz. Recall if you will, the mysterious Zond trans-lunar flights of the 60’s & 70’s. The Zond was in fact a Soyuz variant.

      Perhaps Russia will form a new close partnership with China, in the near future. The whole ISS project was conceived as a post-cold-war joining-of-forces, so as to keep Russian scientists preoccupied with peaceful uses of technology & engineering. There was fear at the time of the Cold War’s end, that Russian technologists might get mixed up with the illicit world weapons trade, so the joint ISS was a supplanting big project for them to keep busy on. All those geopolitical motivations are now flatly obsolete.

      By the way: a human Lunar Return AND eventual Moon bases are the prime space activity that we as a space-faring nation should be doing, as soon as a Lunar-friendly presidential administration marches in. Mars can wait! There is far too wide of a technology abyss between LEO stations and a human Mars landing, that the circumstances call for dealing with the Moon first! It is THERE that each of the prerequisite new technologies & techniques can finally be mastered, carrying out actual manned operations at both the low orbital “harbor” of a destination planet AND the regolith dust-filled surface of it——-where we will learn a tremendous deal, about how to get things right. Going to Mars now, even if just to flyby or orbit it, is far too premature of a thing to do! Indeed skipping the Moon just to go to Mars, is like taking a gestating baby out of the womb far too prematurely, and expecting it to survive & do fine afterwards——–mere embryos are NOT prepared for life on the outside, as they are NOT developed enough yet!

      • Neil

        Chris. In case you haven’t realised it, there’s a technology gap for returning to the Moon. The ISS is currently a very useful facility wrt researching the very issues and gaps that need to be solved before anyone is going to start any sort of base. Flags and footprints won’t cut it.
        Btw, SpaceX Dragon just splashed down with some of those very experiments on board.

        • Those arguments for ISS that you have been taught to repeat. Since ISS goals are not quantifiable, when does the education end? It doesn’t. It is a perpetually useless program. China and Russia will indeed soon join forces in space. I think that will give the US the kick in the pants it needs to change the status quo. That and a new President loyal to America’s long term interests.

          • Hiram

            “Since ISS goals are not quantifiable, when does the education end? It doesn’t.”

            Quantifiable, as in sixteen of these and twenty four of those? That’s not how you express goals. As to the technology goals of ISS, they are threaded throughout the NASA Technology Roadmaps, which were issued last December. See If you really want to be quantitative, there are fourteen technical areas laid out, almost all of which pertain to work being done on and potential for ISS.

            Sure, go ahead and get educated. Be sure to let us know when it ends for you.

            Oh, shall we talk about the goals about human landing on the Moon? Let’s be quantitative. (1) Leave more footprints. (2) Thumb nose at Chinese. Hey, that’s two important goals!

            If Russia and China want to kick us in the pants by joining forces to go to the Moon, we’ll be happy to tell them about what they’ll find there.

            You all keep blaming the President here. Congress is just as guilty in not aiming us at the Moon, or coming up with any compelling goals for doing so. If I were Obama, and see the cluelessness and dysfunctionality of Congress with regard to space accomplishment, I’d give it a pass myself. They can specify their own heavy lift launcher. Let’s let them decide where to go with it.

            • You all keep blaming the President here.

              Obama cancelled Project Constellation which enjoyed wide congressional and public support. NASA’s ruins should rightly be laid at his feet.

              Oh, shall we talk about the goals about human landing on the Moon? Let’s be quantitative. (1) Leave more footprints. (2) Thumb nose at Chinese. Hey, that’s two important goals!

              3. Seize important new territory and resources for a new century. China and Russia will content us for them. Will we have the guts to compete?

              • Hiram

                “Obama cancelled Project Constellation which enjoyed wide congressional and public support.”

                Yeah, but you carefully neglect to say that Constellation didn’t enjoy strong presidential support before that. I mean from George W. Bush. After VSE, and the start of Constellation, Bush totally abandoned it, declining to request funds to properly support it as he assured his NASA Administrator he would do. Congress never stepped in to do that either. Bush gave birth to Constellation and then effectively cut the balls off of it. Obama just put it out of its misery. It was the humane thing to do, and made us look ahead to things we could actually accomplish, instead of pretending to accomplish.

                “3. Seize important new territory and resources for a new century.”

                What exactly makes the Moon important territory? Oh, you mean because it is military high ground? That must be why the DoD is so desperate to put humans up there. Um, aren’t they? Or maybe because of all the He3 there that we don’t know what to do with? Or maybe because of the water there that will fuel future trips to Mars that we can’t afford? Great stuff!

                Didn’t we already have the opportunity to “seize” the Moon forty five years ago? But maybe the nation didn’t think it was worth seizing then. We didn’t have the guts to compete, you’re saying. But it’s time to try again? My, how times change.

                Got yourself educated yet? Exams comin’ up.

              • Jim Nobles

                “Obama cancelled Project Constellation which enjoyed wide congressional and public support.”

                There is some truth in your statement although, unfortunately, I think it is there by accident. The cancellation of Constellation certainly enjoyed congressional support as the record shows. I don’t think the public widely supported Constellation or, indeed, its cancellation. I don’t think the public cared that much either way.

                As long as you continue to misrepresent the facts you will continue to make yourself look bad. I suspect almost all the people who read and post on this forum know exactly what happened with that program.

          • Jim Nobles

            “Since ISS goals are not quantifiable, when does the education end?”

            ISS provides us with an environment to learn how to live and operate in space. When will that education end? I’m guessing it will continue until long after you and I are gone.

            I doubt the government will ever lead a meaningful manned Moon program. It just costs more than they are willing to spend. I believe the Moon will be developed and possibly settled when the private sector decides there is adequate reason to do so. That’s where the serious money exists.

            I believe you folks who are constantly yelling for NASA to forget everything else and go to the Moon are indulging a fantasy whose time is long passed.

            NASA went to Moon, looked around, and reported what they found. It’s up to others to do more than that if they think it’s a good idea. Government has already done their part.

        • @Neil;…..Who said anything about “flags & footprints”?! A human return to the Moon will be similar to the Earth-explorers’ return to the South Pole, as it went in the late 1950’s: we’re going back to stay, this time!

          Sure, our beginning expeditions will resemble the Apollo J missions, but this will be a transitory situation, because our newer, 21st century space vehicles will need at least a few “test flights” to prove their capabilities. Again, did the Space Shuttle start out from day one servicing a space station or actually assembling one? Of course not! It took 60-plus Shuttle flights——sorties in LEO——AND a decade-&-a-half——till STS was ready for any of those challenges. The thing with the Moon, is that we will NOT have to wait for anything near such a long span of time, nor such a huge number of individual flights, before the Lunar program delivers on its first outpost expedition.

          Within say, 2 or 3 years of our first successful 21st century crewed landing, a cargo-only version of our new lunar lander can be introduced, and flown to the Moon to drop off base supplies, at a chosen site, in advance of a crew, who’ll arrive later on board a more conventional lander-craft. The astronauts will then arrange the equipment, and access a base module, activating it for a much longer surface stay——anything from a fortnight to multi-week spans longer. If enough provisions can get delivered to a single landing site, this’ll lead to stays lasting for multi-months.

          Even on the beginning sortie missions, equipment like a lunar roving vehicle, coming down one-way on a specified flight, might even be able to be reused on a different landing, provided that the global distance is not overtly long. I recall seeing a Moon expedition documentary on TV, which floated the idea that such a lunar rover-car might be made able to unmannedly be traversed overland, to reach another crew’s landing site. That is, if such a Moon-car can be designed to withstand the harsh airless, dusty, temperature-swinging environment, for a duration of a few months.

          • Hiram

            “A human return to the Moon will be similar to the Earth-explorers’ return to the South Pole, as it went in the late 1950′s: we’re going back to stay, this time!”

            Interesting comparison. Our presence at the South Pole is almost totally about science. But our human presence on the Moon would not be. Constellation had science firmly in the back seat. The science community remains very interested in the Moon, but is a little skeptical about the value of sending people there to learn what we need to learn. It’s a very expensive way to do that. Not so for Antarctica, whose science opportunities are unique, and the cost of which is $300M/yr (at least an order of magnitude smaller than for a Moon base). Our technological capabilities for learning about the Moon are vastly greater than what we had in the Apollo era.

            It is telling that in your three paragraphs above, you never say what we’re actually going to do once we’re back on the Moon, besides “being there”. You know … what it “delivers”. I’ll say it again. What the Moon gives us (besides more flags and more footprints) is He3, which we don’t know how to use, and water (and perhaps regolith) to support expeditions to Mars that we can’t afford. I know it’s hard to understand, but the rationale to return humans to the Moon isn’t that we can get cargo there to support them, have them do longer surface stays, or reuse lunar roving vehicles. Nope. That’s not rationale, any more than the rationale for our presence in Antarctica is to wear heavy coats.

            In the context of this thread, such a return might be, like the ISS, an international cooperation vehicle to relax Russian tensions with the U.S. But unlike during the Cold War, when those tensions were based strongly in missle and space technology, they aren’t now.

            Returning humans to the Moon would be exciting, and an adventure. Not clear, however, why the federal government should be paying for excitement and adventure.

            • @Hiram,…….I am NO Mars zealot, as you all know. But if you ever do any reading about just what the basic game plan is for getting astronauts to Mars, currently, supposedly relying on available technology, you’d see that the Zubrinites are calling for the interplanetary shipping of an earth-return vehicle & a surface habitation module all the way out to the Red Planet, unmanned. Sounds nifty, until you realize that nothing that massive, large & heavy has ever been successfully landed there, at such vast distances from Earth, crew-less. Go ahead and read-up about the peculiar difficulties with landing massive payloads on that planet.

              I believe that getting the practice of this, by doing automated or remotely-directed lunar lander-sized payloads on the Moon first, will definitely help in paving the way for such farther-future interplanetary ventures. Even if we opted for the idea of sending a lunar lander into low lunar orbit, unmanned & ahead of a Moon crew, for a rendezvous there, like the Golden Spike people proposed doing, we’d still be gaining some good practice for future Mars missions——–as the design reference plans tend to include an advancedly-sent-to Mars-orbit earth-return-vehicle, which awaits a Mars ascent vehicle, for a rendezvous there, prior to the main earth-returning flight phase.

    • AntonA

      I see no one understand situation in Russia. Putin do not care about cosmonautics and new incompetent chiefs of Roscosmos do not care too. So Roscosmos is not going to do something to move beyond LEO. They are going to build new LEO station after ISS, probably with China.

      And also the point. Value of imported electronics and meaterials are much bigger in russian space industry then cheifs of Roscosmos think. Yes, they are SO incompetent. Now therea re some unofficial orders don’t use imported components without even any sanctions. And this orders stop or at least slow down design process. It’s common point of view that, we, for example, can’t build new ISS modules (NEM/SEM) independently.

  • To be accurate, the Obama administration proposed cancelling Constellation and Congress agreed.

    Constellation was a dog program. A series of independent audits by the GAO found it years behind schedule and billions over budget. The moon program was a paper exercise; it was not being built.

    Ares I was to take astronauts to the ISS in 2017. It was going to be funded by closing the ISS in 2015. Pretty stupid to build a rocket to nowhere.

    Which would also be the SLS, but I digress …

    • Hiram

      “Constellation was a dog program.”

      It would be fascinating to dig into the Bush archives in College Station to establish to what extent he knew Constellation was a dog program. He certainly was never a strong proponent of it (as opposed to his at least brief commitment to VSE) and, as I said, he pretty much cut its balls off by strangling its funding. On the other hand, in his mind, the importance of Constellation may have been in starting it, and not completing it. He knew he wouldn’t be President if and when it was completed anyway. That it wouldn’t be completed would be blamed on someone else, as is done here.

      Not that Obama has any great interest in ARM, but same is true with that one. His “accomplishment” with regard to NASA will be looked at as finding something that NASA human space flight could do, but not necessarily following through to make it happen. Unlike Constellation, ARM will probably die before the president that created it leaves office.

      Of course, the excitement now turns to Mars 2021 which, rationale-wise, is almost as vacant as ARM, except perhaps geopolitically. Apollo was about beating the Soviets. Mars 2021 is about beating Mars around the Sun, because after 2021, it’s going to be harder. Who knew that expression of soft power was dependent on orbital dynamics!

    • @Stephen C. Smith;…..The ultimate use for the Orion crew vehicle was NOT to visit the ISS anyhow!! Possible ISS visits were posited, mainly for giving the new spacecraft a little extra something to do, while the plans for its Lunar flight manifest were being worked out. But if there was no longer an ISS up there, then I say: so what?! Whenever Orion would have been ready, its primary mission was to have been the Moon. Without an ISS we’d have simply flown an LEO sortie or two, flights that would’ve resembled Apollo 7 & Apollo 9. What did we do in 1968 & 1969 when there wasn’t any Skylab station yet?!

      I swear, this “there-has-to-be-an-ISS-or-we’ve-got-nothing” attitude has got to change!! In many ways, NASA is highly distracted & held back from doing anything else, precisely because of being so heavily burdened with the ISS. If a permanent LEO station were removed from the equation, you’d be seeing some real progress, in the way of actually LEAVING LEO.

  • Aberwys

    I am curious about how many posters have gone through the export process. It takes time. It’s like your DMV, but worse.

    If you look around, you might have discovered that they got their Licenses.

  • The whole dependency-on-Russia-to-launch-our-astronauts thing was what got us into these current messes. Who couldn’t have foreseen geopolitical antagonisms, with Russia, which could have jeopardized this one-sided, please-catch-me-I’m-falling partnership?! If the President hadn’t decimated the Constellation project, the manned launching gap wouldn’t now be lasting so abyssmally long.

    We could have put together each of the Constellation launch systems in stages. The Orion spacecraft should have been given priority, with the joint development of the non-Heavy Lift launcher that would’ve sent it to near-Earth space. Once it was viably flying—–and it did NOT need the ISS as any reason-to-be, because its primary mission was to be a deep space transport vehicle——then later down that road, a Heavy-Lift rocket & a lunar lander could’ve entered full development.

    In absence of the ISS we could have still flown sortie flights with the Orion in LEO, just like the Shuttle did; until the Heavy-Lift/lunar surface craft was ready. I still believe that the problems with the Ares 1 could very well have been solved, if some patience would’ve prevailed. But even if it didn’t, another small, replacement rocket system could have been invoked as the Orion launcher. Using a giant Heavy Lift rocket, just to send this capsule on its way, is egregious overkill. Sure, Heavy Lift will be required to re-reach the Moon, but a far less massive booster could’ve done the job more easily & efficiently.

    The Chinese are very likely to NOT copy the ISS, and hence NOT get themselves over-wedded to LEO. Even if they build some intermittently-occupied, Skylab-type of facility, they’d avoid a lot of the pitfalls that would tend to keep their space program contained & limited to LEO-only exploits. Indeed their Tiangong “station” target, used for their Shenzou craft to reach, might turn out to be no more of an LEO trap, than the Agena target vehicle was to the America of the 1960’s; which used it to practice rendezvous with a Gemini capsule, prior to the Apollo program. The Tiangong might be just an over-elaborate, orbital target vehicle, that gets them experience & practice with reaching a deep-space cis-lunar module assembly, attached to an earth-escape-rocket-stage. The kind of system that gets humanity back into the business of deep space journeys again!

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