Eytan Stibbe, the second Israeli in space, who is expected to arrive at the station this coming Thursday, reassures: "Cooperation with the Russians is excellent"

Will the tensions and rifts between the U.S. and Russia go beyond Earth's borders and reach space? Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, has announced that it will stop cooperating with the other countries that operate the International Space Station, which cruises above us at an altitude of 400 km. The move comes in response to international sanctions declared against Russia due to the invasion of Ukraine.

Want space collaboration? Remove the sanctions

Dmitry Rogozin, Director General of Roscosmos, wrote in a tweet: "The whole purpose (of the sanctions) is to kill the Russian economy, to degenerate our people into frustration and disgrace, and to bring our country to its knees." Rogozin added: "It is clear that such a move won’t work - but the intention is clear."

Following the sanctions, Rogozin writes that Russia will not cooperate with the other countries on the space station, and the only way to restore cooperation is by removing the sanctions imposed on the country. "The restoration of relations and partnership in the International Space Station will be possible only after the complete and unconditional removal of the illegal sanctions," Rogozin wrote.

A tweet posted by Rogozin with the letter he received from NASA:

According to Rogozin, Roscosmos will submit to NASA proposals to end relations between the parties that operate on the space station, including European, Japanese, and Canadian space agencies. All parties have signed an agreement to continue operating the space station until 2024, with indications that all involved will want to continue to do so until 2030.

A letter given to Rogozin from NASA’s Director Bill Nelson stated that the United States is interested in continuing to operate the space station together with the Russians, Canadians, Japanese and European Space Agencies. He also clarifies that despite U.S. sanctions, NASA's door is open to the Russians, including for the exportation of American parts to Russia for the benefit of space station maintenance.

It is not clear whether a change in Russia's approach will have an immediate impact, especially since their presence on the space station is critical, given that the modules responsible for navigating and controlling the entire station are run by Russians. It is important to remember that the Russian Zvezda ("Star") ISS module is used to maneuver and propel the space shuttle to maintain its orbit. While it cruises at an altitude of 400 km above the Earth, the space station encounters slight friction of particles, which slowly divert its motion from orbit. The propulsion units located in the Russian modules make it possible to restore the route of the station. Without these Russian repairs, it could crash into the Earth's atmosphere which has happened before (with the American space station Skylab in 1979). However, we should remember that this is not the first time Rogozin has threatened to end cooperation, for he also did during the previous crisis in Ukraine in 2014.

Eytan Stibbe: Business as usual

Eytan Stibbe in his SpaceX suit. Credit: Axiom 

These events are important, especially because this coming Thursday afternoon (Israel time), the second Israeli in space, Eytan Stibbe, is expected to take off for the International Space Station. Stibbe’s launch was postponed for a day, not because of the Russian announcement– but because of the weather conditions. In an interview with Geektime, Stibbe said that at least for now, "cooperation with the Russians is excellent." Stibbe adds that the work continues as usual at the station: “Every morning we meet to plan the workday, and, in the evening, we meet for dinner and to summarize the day’s events. There is a lot of cooperation between everyone there."

There is no change? Won't you be briefed by NASA on any changes or new restrictions?

"No. Definitely not. It hasn't even been spoken of. We asked such a question, but the work continues as usual. The Russians are moving to our side, the Americans are working with them. There is no tension at the station."

We know that the propulsion of the station depends on the modules and the cooperation of the Russians. Are you not afraid of such cooperation ceasing?

"Definitely not. There is a complete symbiosis between the 2 main parties of the station –the Russians and the Americans. The American systems provide energy and life systems like water and air treatment; there is a levelled interdependence.

It would take many months of work to disconnect the station. It's not that you just press a switch, and the station is separated into two - a Russian part and an American part. In any case, there is no need to talk about it or be bothered with it for that matter. At the moment, all cooperation is fully ongoing."

So, right now space is out of the realm of politics and conflict?

"Yes. You do not talk about politics there. There are many people from different nations and there is no political discourse."