For some time now Russia has been touted as our “partner” in space flight matters – the simple fact is that anyone honest with themselves will say that Russia, at best, considers the U.S. customers and at worst the U.S. is viewed as competitors. Why? Simple, a review of recent Russian comments and actions would force the staunchest supporter of Russia to acknowledge that they have behaved in anything but a spirit of “cooperation. “
First, as the shuttle program neared its end they raised the cost of a seat on the Soyuz Spacecraft from $58 to $63 million. By changing the price so close to the shuttle’s retirement date the U.S. had no choice but to comply.
When SpaceX announced that it wanted to send the next Dragon Spacecraft to the International Space Station the Russians said, “Nyet.” Not until the new craft had proven it could dock with the orbiting laboratory safely. Ironically SpaceX seems to be flying with no issues – a statement that Russia can no longer make.
When NASA wanted to obtain priceless and historic images of spacecraft from all the major partners at the station at one time (Russia, Europe, Japan and the U.S.) the Russian’s again responded in the negative citing safety concerns. Given that their latest Progress’ debris is decorating the Siberian wasteland – perhaps this was the correct decision to make after all.
When Atlantis ended the shuttle program by safely landing at the Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida – Russia wasted little time in showing their true colors. First the Russians stated that the “Soyuz Epoch” had begun and then they stated that their intent to dump the International Space Station into the Pacific Ocean by 2020. Whether this threat was genuine or merely an attempt to get more money from the U.S. – it spelled out one thing clearly – Russia is not – by any stretch of the imagination, our partner.
With Russia out (at least temporarily) of the human space flight equation there is talk now of abandoning the space station (again at least temporarily) in November. This would only occur if Russia could not figure out what had gone wrong with their launch vehicle. This would mark the first time in a decade that the $100 billion research facility had gone without a crew. Russia has also pushed back the next crewed launch by at least a month.
What these separate elements point out is the glaring need for the U.S. to have multiple launch vehicles at its disposal. Think of it this way, if the U.S. has man-rated Atlas, Delta IV, Falcon 9 and Liberty rockets and there is a problem with one of them – you simply use one of the other launch vehicles to reach orbit – no gap, no reliance on foreign “partners” and much more self-reliance. Making this concept even better would be the inclusion of numerous, affordable spacecraft and a universal mating adapter.
Recent events have made one thing abundantly clear – it is that the U.S. can no longer afford to depend on Russia, or any one else, when it comes to access to space. It also highlights the folly of the relying on a singular spacecraft design. Although Russia launches cargo and crew separately – they do so on the same Soyuz rocket. The U.S. was in a somewhat similar paradigm in that both cargo and crew launches to the space station on the same vehicle (the space shuttle). With the shuttle retired and the Russian “issue” made obvious to all – the best thing that the U.S. can do is break the paradigm, diversify its launch capabilities and in so doing reclaim its space flight lead.Missions » ISS » COTS » Missions » ISS »