War in Ukraine: the possible "fall" of the International Space Station evoked by Russia

The Russian Roscosmos space agency has estimé on Saturday that sanctions against Russia could unsettle provision by carburizing of ISS and so to procreate its fall towards the terrestrial surface. 

War in Ukraine: the possible "fall" of the International Space Station evoked by Russia
The International Space Station, November 16, 2021. (NASA HANDOUT / MAXPPP)

A 420 ton threat above our heads? The managing director of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, Dmitri Rogozine, has affirmé on Saturday that the international Space station (ISS) could crash on Earth because of the Western sanctions taken against Russia after the plague of Ukraine.

In the centre of concerns, provision of an essential module, who could very be soon perturbé, according to Roscosmos, by measures taken against the regime of Vladimir Putin. Until now relatively preserved from conflicts of the Earth, ISS stays in the middle of of American and European interests and makes from now on the object of unpublished tensions since the launching at the end of 1990s. Franceinfo takes stock of the situation on this geopolitical crisis which takes place as in altitude as 400 kilometres.

On what is based this alert?

In messages sent to space agencies American (Nasa) and European (ESA), the boss of Roscosmos draws a disastrous linked chain reaction, according to him, in sanctions against Russia. For Dmitri Rogozine, these measures indeed risk unsettling the functioning of the Russian vessels which provide with fresh supplies ISS. Problem: the Russian Zvezda module, which allows the station to keep its altitude, could not then play any more its vital role.

"The Russian segment makes sure in the fact that the orbit of the station is corrected (on average eleven times a year), including to avoid the space rubbish", déclaré has so Dmitri Rogozine, publié on the count Twitter on Saturday with a card of the world showing the zone flown by ISS – and where the station could potentially crash. A broadband which includes the United States, the countries of the European Union and only an insignificant part of the Russian territory. This zone where could crash ISS could not be proved by franceinfo.

"The populations of other countries, notably those run by the 'war dogs', should think at the price of sanctions against Roscosmos", Dmitri Rogozine has menacé, who often publishes on social networks of slogans and of assemblages photo mocking Ukraine and his president. 

Since bets it on orbit of the it first module of ISS in 1998, Roscosmos has joué an essential role in its enlargement and its service. Three-four times a year, rockets Soyouz take off since the cosmodrome of Baïkonour (Kazakhstan), to project the vessels of provision of the station. The last launching of this type took place on February 15th, is nine days before the plague of Ukraine by Russia.

Can ISS continue working without Russia?

It is not possible currently, but this scenario is actively exploré, by Nasa notably. On the March 1st, the American space agency indeed has déclaré that firms had their services proposé to assure the strategical provision of ISS instead of Russia.

"Our friends of SpaceX look how to improve our capacities (in the field)", has moreover déclaré Kathy Lueders, responsible for manned flights of Nasa, in reference to the firm of the multimillionaire Elon Musk – already well implicated in the American space programmes. February 21st, a freighter vessel Cygnus, conceived by the American conglomerate Northrop Grumman and Frenchman Thales, has livré 3 800 kilogrammes of equipment in ISS. According to its concepteurs, this type of vessel is completely capable of bringing the fuel necessary for the propulsion of the station.

For its part, the European Space Agency is making itself more discreet, even though it assured, in a communiqué dated 28 February *, "fully implement the sanctions" decided by its member states. Space cooperation with Roscosmos was partially paused, following the withdrawal of Russian personnel from the French base in Kourou, Guyana, on 26 February. As for the launch of the joint ExoMars programme to the Red Planet, it is "very uncertain" that it can take place this year, says ESA.

3La could it cause damage by falling back to Earth?
In the worst case scenario, debris falls on Earth would indeed be feared. Two parameters have to be taken into account. First, the disintegration of the structure raises the question. With its many modules and solar panels measuring 108 metres by 73 metres in total, the ISS could partly withstand re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere, about 80 km from the cow floor. Much smaller spacecraft, such as a Russian cargo ship in 2015, and the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 in 2018, have already led to small debris rains in the Pacific Ocean, without causing damage.

The other unknown in this equation would be the point of fall of this possible debris. Since 70% of the Earth is covered with water, there is a very high chance that the remnants of the station will end up at the bottom of a sea or ocean. This is the plan of Nasa *, which foresees a "de-orbit" and then a fully controlled crash of the ISS in 2031, at the level of the "Nemo point" in the South Pacific - an isolated area used as a spacecraft cemetery. However, in the event of uncontrolled deorbit, the duration of the downfall of the ISS and its drop point are the subject of intense speculation in the scientific community.

If we do not know with certainty the damage that the station would cause on Earth, compromising the ISS would be a strong symbol. Since its launch, more than 250 astronauts from 19 countries have followed suit * to conduct thousands of new scientific experiments - an example of international cooperation, initiated after forty years of the Cold War.


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