There’s not much else to go for Roscosmos at this point other than the ISS – or a replacement to be called the Russian Orbital Service Station, which Borosiv claimed could be developed and launched as early as 2028.
That’s an overly optimistic timeline, Samson and Dreier argue, since it took more than 12 years for Russia to develop its Nauka ISS module, which was launched to the ISS last year. “I don’t see it, given their funding problems. And Russia’s civilian space program has quality control problems and corruption problems. I don’t know that they could afford to build their own space station and continue to contribute to the ISS,” says Samson.
China is building its own space station after launching its second module, the Wentian, last week. A third module, Mengtian, is scheduled for launch in October. Neither Chinese nor Russian officials have given any indication that they will cooperate on the station, which orbits at an inclination that would be difficult to reach from a Russian launch site. However, China and Russia have agreed to jointly build a research station on the moon in the 2030s.
One of Russia’s biggest investments in space remains on the military side. The country has developed, deployed and even used anti-spacecraft weapons with implications for international space security. Russia has tested anti-satellite missiles, most recently in November 2021, and also lasers, and it has used electronic and cyber weapons against satellites and ground systems. (The US and Chinese militaries are working on similar technologies.)
“In Ukraine, we’ve seen GPS jamming, communications jamming, Starlink jamming — which they were eventually able to bypass — and the cyberattack on ViaSat ground terminals,” said Kaitlyn Johnson, a researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonpartisan think tank. in Washington, DC. But given the relatively low cost of such attacks, the Russians have so far not used cyber warfare as much as experts had expected, Samson says.
In any case, the fragile situation ultimately means more risks to spacecraft and the ground infrastructure they depend on, including commercial satellites that have been embroiled in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Such satellites include US-based satellite imaging companies such as Maxar and Planet and radar imaging companies such as Capella Space, which can spot military convoys and troop movements. Elon Musk and SpaceX have had no qualms about also intervening on behalf of Ukraine by helping military communications with Starlink. This could be part of a trend, says Johnson; she believes that SpaceX is becoming more like a traditional military contractor along the lines of Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin, which similarly work with both NASA and the Pentagon. SpaceX has government contracts for launching of military satellites and building missile tracking satellites and explores a Pentagon partnership for space transport of military supplies.
And when satellite companies become embroiled in conflicts on Earth, it can have consequences in space. Militaries can only attack military targets, not civilians, according to the international law on armed conflict. But that doesn’t prevent “dual use” civilian spacecraft like Starlinks and Maxars, along with their ground infrastructure, from becoming potential targets for Russia if they are used for both civilian and military purposes in Ukraine, said David Koplow, a law professor at Georgetown and author of a newer paper on the law of armed conflict in space.