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Transcript of Briefing on Russian Space Sanctions Against United States

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
May 14, 2014
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Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. (Credit: A. Savin)

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. (Credit: A. Savin)

Briefing by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin and Head of the Federal Space Agency Oleg Ostapenko on International Space Cooperation


Dmitry Rogozin: Good afternoon. Our meeting today concerns certain issues related to international cooperation in the rocket and space industry and individual space services, for instance, navigation. These issues are related primarily to the US policy of imposing sanctions on Russia, including in such a sensitive sphere as space cooperation.

We’ve repeatedly warned our colleagues at the political and professional levels (via the Federal Space Agency) that sanctions are always a boomerang. They always come back around and are simply inappropriate in such sensitive spheres as cooperation in space exploration, production of spacecraft engines, and navigation, not to mention manned space flights. Sanctions are like releasing a bull in a china shop. That said, we’ve always built Russian policy on the following logic – a statement in response to a statement and a reaction following an action.

Today we are facing a number of problems that will be described in detail by Head of the Federal Space Agency Oleg Ostapenko. I’ll briefly mention them. The first problem is the refusal to host GLONASS infrastructure stations on US territory despite the presence of 11 GPS receiving stations in 10 Russian regions. Several months have passed but we are still in a stalemate, so this is now an issue of proportion and reciprocity.

Secondly, as you know, certain actions have been taken to prevent Russia from receiving spacecraft that are supposed to be launched with Russian rockets under the pretext that these spacecraft, including EU-made ones, contain US electronics. So these spacecraft were not cleared for delivery under this pretext despite the signed contracts. This policy is creating economic difficulties for the Russian producers of launch vehicles.

The third point is an important one. For many years, since the mid ‘90s, we’ve supplied the United States with rocket engines for launches to the International Space Station in accordance with agreements of the Russian and US governments. I’m referring to the NK-33 engines produced by the Kuznetsov company in Samara. This is not a new engine – it was designed in the early 1970s for the Soviet lunar programme that was suspended. These absolutely fail-safe and reliable engines are being supplied to the United States.

The Energomash Plant has been supplying RD-180 engines for launches, including those in which the US Government is involved. Delivery of these engines has been stable recently.

The Russian rocket engine industry was receiving the funds it needs to upgrade its production and conduct R&D, but we’ve recently received information that purchases, at least of RD-180 engines, are most likely to be discontinued.

In this context, the Government and the Federal Space Agency have taken certain steps to warn our partners about potential reciprocal action. Now Mr Ostapenko will tell us about his contacts with American and European colleagues. Go ahead please.

Oleg Ostapenko: Yes, thank you. We have five major areas of space cooperation. First, there is the International Space Station. We agreed from the very start that this area will remain unchanged, and therefore it is immune to sanctions. As Mr Rogozin has said, these are also supplies of RD-180 and NK-33 engines; spacecraft launch services; the GPS/GLONASS project and long-term research programmes.

With regard to these areas, the initial response of the United States was fairly categorical. However, we cannot just be onlookers. We have identified appropriate steps with regard to the United States that will offset the problems that we may have with regard to our programmes… We can resolve the problems that confront us. Concerning these actions, we tried to arrange our work so as to meet all our commitments, which we have successfully done so far. As for RD-180 and NK-3, the initial goal was to stop buying these engines from us.

As we are aware, not everything is working out well for our, if I may put it this way, colleagues from the United States, who can and needed to address their issues using this engine. Indeed, this engine was developed a long time ago, but itstill holds a lot of promise and is upgradeable, and has very good potential.

We believe we can begin to build it in Russia, but at the same time the issue has to do with us not being able to launch production or use these engines in the United States… Rather, we don’t want them to be able to use it for military purposes, as we are often limited in terms of providing launching services with regard to spacecraft launches for peaceful purposes only, as for dual purpose technology, not everything is clear here. Thus, with regard to the NK-33 and RD-180 engines we are striving for parity in resolving the problem.

I recently spoke with Head of NASA Charles Bolden about launch services. Our conversation was fairly constructive, and he came to the conclusion that approaching this issue from the position of dictates was inappropriate and wrong. As a result of this work, the embargo on shipping engines has been lifted. We are ready to supply these engines to the United States, but under the condition that they are not to be used for launching military spacecraft.

With regard to launching spacecraft for commercial purposes using Proton boosters, all licenses for 2014 have been issued. This area holds promise for us in 2014, and we are now holding talks about 2015-2016.

With regard to cooperation on GLONASS and GPS and installing GLONASS stations across the United States, the United States has given us a verbal agreement to consider the installation of these stations in the United States. We have submitted the relevant documents to have this issue considered. If we fail to reach a constructive decision in this regard, we will, of course, take appropriate measures concerning the US stations on our territory. That’s all I have to say about our work in this area as of today.

As for promising areas of research, we had talks with the leadership of the European Space Agency and NASA … They assure us that the programmes will not be curtailed, and we hope that this work will continue. That’s how things stand today.

Dmitry Rogozin: As for navigation services, I would like to provide you with some information for easy reference. This concerns the following science and technological cooperation agreements between the Government of the Russian Federation and the Government of the United States, including the agreement of 16 December 1993 that was extended until 15 December 2015, as well as the 15 September 2011 agreement on exchanging seismological and geodynamic data between the Geophysical Service of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the IRIS consortium. As I mentioned, GPS infrastructure stations are located in some Russian regions, including the Kaluga Region, the Sverdlovsk Region, the Krasnoyarsk Territory, the Sakha Yakutia Republic (Tiksi and Yakutsk), Irkutsk, Magadan, the Chukotka Autonomous Area, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky and Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, under these agreements. Over the past few months, we have failed to make any headway during negotiations on siting a similar GLONASS infrastructure in the United States, but we still have time to resolve this issue until 31 May. From 1 June, we’ll suspend the operation of these GPS stations in the Russian Federation. The Federal Space Agency, the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have established a working group. We’re launching three-month negotiations with the United States, and we expect to complete them by the end of the summer. We hope that solutions to resume this cooperation based on parity and mutual balance will be found during these negotiations. Otherwise these stations will completely stop operating from 1 September. I’d also like to say that, according to a survey of the Federal Space Agency, Russian civilian GPS users will not be affected. Therefore, to be honest, this will not affect the quality of navigation services in any way. Nevertheless, it is our opinion that we can wait no more.

As for the International Space Station (ISS), this is an extremely sensitive issue. We were somewhat surprised, if not amused, by the fact that the United States is prepared to reduce cooperation in every area with the Russian Federal Space Agency, except the ISS. Basically the US wants to keep those areas it’s interested in, but it’s ready to take its chances in other areas that are less interesting for them. We also realise that the ISS is quite fragile, both literally and figuratively. This concerns manned space missions and the life of the astronauts, and we’ll therefore proceed extremely pragmatically and will not hamper the operation of the ISS in any way. However, it should be kept in mind that, by creating problems for us, for the Russian industry developing launch vehicles that can fly Russian cosmonauts and US astronauts to the ISS … It is absolutely obvious that this is some kind of logical inconsistency on the part of the United States. The US creates obstacles with regard to launch vehicles and evacuation systems. But at the same time, it believes that the ISS should not be tampered with. Our US colleagues have told us that they would like to extend the ISS’ operation deadline until 2024. But the Russian Federal Space Agency and our colleagues, including the Academy of Sciences and the Russian Foundation for Advanced Research Projects are now ready to make some new long-term strategic proposals linked with the subsequent development of the Russian space programme after 2020. We plan to use the ISS exactly up to 2020.

Speaking of the unhealthy situation around the RD-180 rocket engines, it is very hard to draw a line because the United States is so afraid to cooperate with us on potential dual-purpose projects, and, if you will excuse me, every current spacecraft basically has dual-purpose defence-related and civilian implications, and this also concerns communications, remote sensing satellites and a lot more… Nevertheless, we are listening to the position of our US colleagues. I would like to confirm the statement made by Mr Ostapenko and to say that, indeed, we will proceed from the fact that we can no longer deliver these engines to the United States, and that we can no longer maintain and repair previously shipped engines, unless we receive guarantees that our engines are used only for launching civilian payloads. We need these guarantees. It would be strange if Russian money and brains were used for launching military payloads that would help in various unclear space projects.

So, this is basically all we wanted to tell you. As you can see, we are taking cautious steps, and as I said, we have responded with a statement to a statement. But we’ll respond with actions to actions. On the whole, the Military-Industrial Commission, the Government of the Russian Federation and the Russian Federal Space Agency, as well as the concerned departments of the Academy of Sciences, are discussing this issue. We find it very alarming to continue expanding serious high-tech projects with such an unreliable partner as the United States that politicises everything, and which is ready to risk serious issues influencing the interests of all of humankind, and not just the United States. In this context, the Government of the Russian Federation has instructed the Federal Space Agency to expand its cooperation with our partners in the Asia-Pacific Region and to search for viable projects, as regards near-Earth space and deep space exploration with them. Thank you.

Question: Mr Rogozin, are you considering a different option whereby Russia will itself impose sanctions or take preventive measures, so that instead of reacting, it will be the one initiating refusals or suspensions? Is this a viable option in this context?

Dmitry Rogozin: We won’t initiate sanctions for the simple reason I mentioned – sanctions are counterproductive and unhealthy, especially in high technology. We understand that every job created in the domestic rocket and space industry automatically creates nine jobs in related industries. So for us this is an issue of employment and development. You know what efforts the Government, the rocket and space industry and the Federal Space Agency have made to overcome the setbacks that plagued us in the last few years. We’ve begun the process of forming the United Rocket and Space Corporation with the President’s support. Right now we’re doing the necessary paperwork .

So for us, the language of sanctions is absolutely inappropriate and inopportune. Sanctions are not on our list; we have enough problems of our own. So we’ll try to do our best to avoid becoming a bull in a china shop. In fact we’re going to wrap the fragile china in paper and soft fabric to keep it from getting smashed by the bull. That is what we are going to do. We certainly won’t make the bad situation being deliberately created by Washington even worse. This isn’t about responding to military threats in outer space, of course; this is a different matter, for another kind of audience. Rather, it’s about parrying threats, including prospective ones, related to anti-missile defence and our aerospace defence programmes. Not to mention civilian space exploration. We’re going to act with utmost care. What we’ve just said comes down to bringing about a respectful attitude toward us, our industry, and the interests that define our nation’s high-tech image.

GLONASS is not something we should stay quiet about. We have a nationwide network of stations providing the necessary data thanks to our years-long collaboration with the Academy of Sciences, so it is hard to take seriously claims that our stations – none of which are on US soil as yet – will be intelligence-oriented. And what have they been doing here for all these years, since 1993? That’s a good question, isn’t it? So we should be wise and fair…

Question: ITAR TASS. Mr Rogizin, I would like to clarify something. You said the US is in favour of extending the International Space Station to 2024. But you also said you have a personal vision for that project, according to which the station will remain operational until 2020. But what will come after?

Dmitri Rogozin: Mr Ostapenko will correct me if I’m wrong, but I think about one third of our total space programme budget goes to manned space exploration – the ISS, that is. It’s a huge amount of money, of taxpayer money. We’d like to look ahead, beyond the horizon. As a matter of fact, manned space exploration, as we know it today, involves two inseparable segments – American and Russian. Specialists from the Russian Space Agency will confirm, as they’ve reported to the Government, that the Russian segment – strange as it may seem – is capable of of operating independently from the US, but not vice versa. That’s a feature specific to the station.

Second, Russian rockets will remain the only means of delivering astronauts to the International Space Station for the next few years. The United States has no such spacecraft, and so dependence on Russia for extending the work of the ISS, although mutual, is larger for the United States. As for Russia, we should adopt a very pragmatic attitude. We must determine our direct and indirect gains from the ISS, the research projects we can implement there, what our cosmonauts would do at the station, and the benefit-cost ratio.

So, we respect the work of the Federal Space Agency in this sphere. It has reported that in the near future, or more precisely this summer, it would forward new plans to the Government for prospective exploration projects in near and outer space. Mr Ostapenko is working on these projects in cooperation with the Advanced Research Foundation. After 2020, we’d like to use these and the intellectual and production resources for the implementation of more forward-looking space projects. These could even be international projects, but it would be us who would choose our partners and decide with whom to cooperate in near and outer space exploration.

Question: Interfax. Mr Ostapenko, you said Russia would carry out all the planned commercial spacecraft launches in 2014. Has anything changed? Are there any problems with foreign spacecraft launches?

Oleg Ostapenko: There were some obstacles, because launch licences had not been issued for 2014, 2015 and 2016. As of now, the licences for 2014 have been issued. What is our reasoning? We do have licences for spacecraft launches in 2014. But considering that our partner is not reliable, as Mr Rogozin has said, we are also considering the worst case scenarios. We will keep working in Russia to resolve this issue, and we will also carry on our cooperation with NASA and the European Space Agency.