Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin took to his English-language Twitter account this week to criticize the latest round of U.S. sanctions responding to the Ukrainian crisis, and threaten the countries’ space travel partnership.
The latest economic sanctions against Russia for allegedly supporting Russian separatists and repeatedly violating Ukrainian sovereignty place a ban on high-tech exports, which directly affects sectors of the government overseen by Rogozin.
“The U.S. introduced sanctions against our space industry. God knows, we warned them: we respond to declarations w/ declarations, to actions w/ actions,” Rogozin tweeted.
“After analyzing the sanctions against our space industry, I suggest the U.S. delivers its astronauts to the ISS [International Space Station] with a trampoline,” the deputy PM added later.
American Astronauts have relied on Russia for rides to the ISS, where both Americans and Russians are currently aboard, since the retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet in July 2011. Those rides cost about $71 million-per seat on Russian Soyuz space capsules — a price widely regarded as unnecessarily expensive by experts, and taking gross advantage of NASA’s current lack of proprietary space transport.
In addition to the steady payout from hitching rides, the U.S. has footed $100 billion of the $160 billion current cost of the ISS. Russia will soon collect a payment of $457.9 million from the U.S. for a number of Soyuz rides, and two U.S. astronauts currently aboard the ISS are relying on them to return to Earth.
However Rogozin’s threat may not carry much weight for very long. Last month NASA officially suspended all contact with Russia with the exception of ISS affairs in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and within days announced its intent to launch U.S. astronauts from American soil again by 2017.
NASA and private rocket and spacecraft developer SpaceX successfully launched a new reusable rocket and space capsule to the ISS almost two weeks ago. While that mission was unmanned and only delivered supplies, it marked a major step toward the U.S. returning to proprietary manned spaceflight.
The crisis in Ukraine and threats over sanctions may serve to wound Russia far more than the U.S. in the long-term, as it seems to have re-ignited determination in the White House, on Capitol Hill, and at NASA to develop a viable follow-up to the Space Shuttle program.
Without the sizable payments for Soyuz seats from the U.S. and continuing economic sanctions in tech, Ukraine may end up costing Russia’s underfunded aerospace program more than its leaders expected.