Russia’s Space Boss Threatens the Space Station

The Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to extend its reach—not just around the world, but into space. For that we have Dmitry Rogozin—an intemperate man in what demands to be a temperate business—to blame. Much of the world came to know Rogozin, the head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, back in 2014, when he was deputy prime minister, and Russia had launched its first incursion into Ukraine, seizing Crimea. Then, as now, the US imposed and sanctions then, as now, the Russians cried foul. But Rogozin went a step further.

At the time, the space shuttle had been retired, and the US was dependent on hitching rides aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to get astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). Rogozin took to Twitter to tie the sanctions and America’s humbling dependence on the Soyuz together. “After analyzing the sanctions against our space industry, I suggest to the USA to bring their astronauts to the International Space Station using a trampoline,” he famously tweeted in April 2014.

Things have only gotten worse now that Rogozin runs Roscosmos and Russia is deep in a much bloodier and uglier war across the breadth of Ukraine.

The ISS stays aloft in part thanks to regular reboosts from the engine of a Soyuz spacecraft docked to the Russian end of the station. In March, Rogozin threatened to hold the station hostage again. “The Russian segments ensures that the station’s orbit is corrected … including to avoid space debris,” he wrote on the messaging app Telegram. Along with the message he published a map showing that the ISS passes only a small portion of Russia in its orbits, but does pass regularly over the US and Europe—where a falling station could theoretically crash. “The populations of other countries, especially those led by the ‘dogs of war’, should think about the price of the sanctions against Roscosmos,” he wrote.

This week, as Live Science reports, Rogozin spoke out yet again, this time threatening to abandon Russia’s space station partnership with the US entirely. In a statement to the government-owned Rossiya-24 TV channel, Rogozin said: “The decision has already been made.” He did not say exactly when the breach would happen—only that it would—and that Moscow would give Washington a year’s notice of when it intends to abandon the outpost, “in accordance with our obligations.”

Some of this is just bluester. The Biden Administration and NASA have both signaled their hope to keep the aging station aloft until 2030, which would extend the original agreement among the 15 international partners who operate it to decommission it in 2024. Russia has not yet signaled its agreement with the extension to 2030. This means that if it announced in 2023 its intent to pull out in a year, it would simply be sticking to the original 2024 timeline.

What’s more, while it’s true that the station depends on the Soyuz for its periodic reboosts, an American spacecraft could do just as well and NASA is already testing the ability of a US Cygnus cargo vessel to do the job. The biggest danger from Rogozin’s latest threat is not to the station itself, but to the international comity that has kept the giant outpost flying for the past 24 years. The great project has succeeded all this time not thanks just to cool heads, but to good will. Rogozin, again, is demonstrating neither.

This story originally appeared in TIME Space, our weekly newsletter covering all things space. You can sign up here.

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Write to Jeffrey Kluger at jeffrey.kluger@time.com.

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