Russia’s economic, scientific and political isolation hasn’t impacted its space prowess. In a show of its technological strength, Moscow on March 22 launched a military communications satellite.
This was its second launch since it invaded Ukraine on February 24. A Soyuz rocket carrying the Meridian-M communication satellite lifted off from Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia, at 8:48 a.m. EDT (1248 GMT), state-owned news agency Ria Novosti reported.
“Satellites of the ‘Meridian’ series provide communication between sea vessels and ice reconnaissance aircraft in the area of the Northern Sea Route with coastal and ground stations,” it wrote. “Also, the devices expand the capabilities of satellite communication stations in the northern regions of Siberia and the Far East.”
This orbit allows the satellite to stay in one place for around eight hours at a time, making it easier to send communications to areas far north and south of the equator, which are difficult to reach with geostationary satellites.
The 2,100-kg payload is a part of Russia’s Meridian next-generation telecommunications satellite. It is used for both civil and military uses, with the primary aim of allowing communications and providing uplink for ships, aircraft, and other vehicles operating in the Arctic Ocean and Siberia.
Roscosmos shared this video of the launch yesterday. I believe this is the first time a symbol of war has been placed on a (orbital) rocket. pic.twitter.com/YQjWD5numd
— Aerospace Intelligence (@space_osint) March 23, 2022
While the Meridian-M network provides support to the Russian military, the launch has nothing to do with the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, said space agency NASA. The constellation of satellites has been operational since 2019, and the Meridian network as a whole since 2006.
Three Russian cosmonauts just launched to the International Space Station on a Russian rocket, from Kazakhstan. The color scheme of their space attire as they came aboard the station is rather striking. pic.twitter.com/A3fA7SAlPV
— Eric Berger (@SciGuySpace) March 18, 2022
This is Moscow’s second space launch since the Ukraine war began on February 24. On March 18, cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev, and Sergey Korsakov were sent to the International Space Station from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, according to Space.com.
The trio arrived in the orbiting lab a few hours later, dressed in yellow and blue flight suits, Ukraine’s national colors. Some speculated that the cosmonauts were expressing sympathy for the invaded nation. Russian space officials, however, were quick to dismiss that view. The incident ended up stirring up the internet.
War in Space
The Russian war in Ukraine has impacted its space collaborations with other countries. The European Space Agency recently suspended its ‘ExoMars’ mission with Russia indefinitely.
On the other hand, Russia’s space agency announced earlier this month that it will no longer export rocket engines to the United States. The decision is the latest in a series of retaliatory actions by Roscosmos in response to Western sanctions imposed on the country since its invasion of Ukraine.
Russia is a member of the International Space Station and Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Roscosmos, has warned that Western sanctions against Russia could lead to the ISS collapsing.
Roscosmos said on Twitter that all previously scheduled cooperative experiments on the ISS will now be done independently, and Russian space activities will be altered to account for sanctions imposed by numerous nations following the invasion of Ukraine. The space agency also stated that it would concentrate on developing satellites for defense purposes, according to Reuters.
After Moscow demanded that the satellites not be used for military purposes, a scheduled internet satellite launch from OneWeb, a corporation partially controlled by the British government, was canceled. As a result, OneWeb halted all future launches using Soyuz rockets and signed a launch contract with SpaceX.
OneWeb has announced they have selected SpaceX to resume launches of their satellites later this year. 🚀
This comes after the suspension of all future missions with Roscosmos.
428 OneWeb satellites are on orbit thus far. https://t.co/XTemsMsfKJ
📸: SpaceX pic.twitter.com/39qZdit0Yn
— Everything SpaceX (@spacex360) March 21, 2022
Roscosomos also took to Twitter to announce that it would be ending all collaborative ties with Germany after the country’s space center, DLR, released an official statement condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Private space corporations have come to the aid of Ukraine. After the Russian invasion was launched, American billionaire Elon Musk announced that his Starlink satellite service was operational in Ukraine.
“Starlink service is now active in Ukraine,” Musk tweeted, adding “more terminals en route.”
The tweet came about ten hours after Ukraine’s Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov urged Musk to extend Starlink services to his country which were disrupted under Russian attack.
Further, there have been reports that SpaceX’s Starlink satellites are assisting Ukrainian military drones in destroying Russian tanks and army trucks.
Russia’s Loss, America’s Gain?
According to Quilty Analytics, a research and investment firm, Russia is swiftly cutting itself off from much of the global space industry in reaction to Western sanctions, and US corporations stand to benefit, CNBC reported.
Quilty sees US companies as net beneficiaries as Russia retaliates by withdrawing its launch services for American and European organizations, with a number of satellites now looking for rides to space. According to Chris Quilty, the founder of the research organization, Elon Musk’s SpaceX is “the clear winner” in the launch business.
Elon Musk’s Space X has reportedly sent “thousands” of Starlink dishes to Ukraine in order to bolster its internet connectivity.
Company president Gwynne Shotwell told CNBC on Tuesday that the kits were largely funded by private sources.
— Fuad Alakbarov (@DrAlakbarov) March 23, 2022
If Russia withdraws from the ISS cooperation early or at least does not extend its position beyond 2024, additional suppliers and eventually a new space station will be required, according to Quilty. Space companies in the United States would thus stand to gain.
Regardless of the consequences of this ad hoc decoupling, the measures taken by both sides demonstrate the importance of space exploration in global collaboration.