August 18, 2022

US launch providers eyeing Russia-Ukraine situation

US launch providers eyeing Russia-Ukraine situation
US launch providers eyeing Russia-Ukraine situationUS launch providers eyeing Russia-Ukraine situation

A Russian invasion of Ukraine could have ripple effects across the space economy and community.

In recent weeks, Russia has amassed at least 100,000 troops along the border of Ukraine, to the condemnation of the United States and other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. 

On Tuesday (Feb. 21), after reports that Russia was moving into Ukraine, U.S. President Joe Biden described the action as “the beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine,” and took action to authorize new economic sanctions and send U.S. troops to the Baltics to protect against potential incursions there, according to Vice.

The situation is sensitive and complicated in the space world, given that Russia is a key partner in the International Space Station (effects there have not yet been seen) and also supplies key rocket parts for two high-profile U.S. launch companies.

Related: Military activity in Russia spotted in satellite photos as tensions rise in Ukraine

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Helicopter deployment in Valuyki, Russia as seen on Feb. 15, 2022.

Helicopter deployment in Valuyki, Russia as seen on Feb. 15, 2022. (Image credit: Maxar Technologies)
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Helicopter deployment and troops in Valuyki, Russia as seen on Feb. 15, 2022.

Helicopter deployment and troops in Valuyki, Russia as seen on Feb. 15, 2022. (Image credit: Maxar Technologies)
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A close view of air defense units in Belarus, observed from space on Feb. 14 2022.

A close view of air defense units in Belarus, observed from space on Feb. 14 2022. (Image credit: Maxar Technologies)
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Drone technology at Luninets Air Base in Belarus, observed on Feb. 14, 2022.

Drone technology at Luninets Air Base in Belarus, observed on Feb. 14, 2022. (Image credit: Maxar Technologies)
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Ground attack aircraft at Luninets Air Base in Belarus, as seen on Feb. 14, 2022.

Ground attack aircraft at Luninets Air Base in Belarus, as seen on Feb. 14, 2022. (Image credit: Maxar Technologies)
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Helicopters at Lida airfield in Belarus, as seen on Feb. 16, 2022.

Helicopters at Lida airfield in Belarus, as seen on Feb. 16, 2022. (Image credit: Maxar Technologies)
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Helicopters in Belgorod in Russia, as seen on Feb. 13, 2022.

Helicopters in Belgorod in Russia, as seen on Feb. 13, 2022. (Image credit: Maxar Technologies)
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Helicopters by Lake Donuzlav in Crimea.

Helicopters by Lake Donuzlav in Crimea. (Image credit: Maxar Technologies)
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The Millerovo Air Base in Russia on Feb. 15, 2022.

The Millerovo Air Base in Russia on Feb. 15, 2022. (Image credit: Maxar Technologies)
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Luninets Air Base in Belarus as seen on Feb. 14, 2022.

Luninets Air Base in Belarus as seen on Feb. 14, 2022. (Image credit: Maxar Technologies)
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A convoy of armored equipment in Crimea as seen on Feb. 18, 2022.

A convoy of armored equipment in Crimea as seen on Feb. 18, 2022. (Image credit: Maxar Technologies)
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Tents and a field hospital in Novoozernoye in Crimea as seen on Feb. 18, 2022.

Tents and a field hospital in Novoozernoye in Crimea as seen on Feb. 18, 2022. (Image credit: Maxar Technologies)
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This image, snapped on Feb. 4, 2022, by Maxar’s Worldview-3 satellite, shows VD Bolshoy Bokov Airfield near Mazyr, Belarus, before Russian troops moved into the area.

This image, snapped on Feb. 4, 2022, by Maxar’s Worldview-3 satellite, shows VD Bolshoy Bokov Airfield near Mazyr, Belarus, before Russian troops moved into the area. (Image credit: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies)
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This image, snapped on Feb. 22, 2022, by Maxar’s Worldview-3 satellite, shows new deployments at VD Bolshoy Bokov Airfield near Mazyr, Belarus.

This image, snapped on Feb. 22, 2022, by Maxar’s Worldview-3 satellite, shows new deployments at VD Bolshoy Bokov Airfield near Mazyr, Belarus. (Image credit: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies)
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This image, snapped on Feb. 22, 2022, by Maxar’s Worldview-3 satellite, shows a closeup of assembled vehicles at VD Bolshoy Bokov Airfield.

This image, snapped on Feb. 22, 2022, by Maxar’s Worldview-3 satellite, shows a closeup of assembled vehicles at VD Bolshoy Bokov Airfield. (Image credit: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies)
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This image, snapped on Feb. 21, 2022, by Maxar’s Worldview-3 satellite, shows new deployments of material support and troops at Krasnyi Oktyabr in Russia, southwest of Belgorod.

This image, snapped on Feb. 21, 2022, by Maxar’s Worldview-3 satellite, shows new deployments of material support and troops at Krasnyi Oktyabr in Russia, southwest of Belgorod. (Image credit: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies)
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This image, snapped on Feb. 21, 2022, by Maxar’s Worldview-3 satellite, shows an overview of new deployments in a clearing southwest of Belgorod.

This image, snapped on Feb. 21, 2022, by Maxar’s Worldview-3 satellite, shows an overview of new deployments in a clearing southwest of Belgorod. (Image credit: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies)
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This image, snapped on Feb. 21, 2022, by Maxar’s GeoEye-1 satellite, shows armor and vehicles at a railyard in Veselaya Lopan, southwest of Belgorod.

This image, snapped on Feb. 21, 2022, by Maxar’s GeoEye-1 satellite, shows armor and vehicles at a railyard in Veselaya Lopan, southwest of Belgorod. (Image credit: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies)
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This image, snapped on Feb. 21, 2022, by Maxar’s Worldview-2 satellite, shows an overview of a field hospital and troop deployment in western Belgorod.

This image, snapped on Feb. 21, 2022, by Maxar’s Worldview-2 satellite, shows an overview of a field hospital and troop deployment in western Belgorod. (Image credit: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies)
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This image, snapped on Feb. 21, 2022, by Maxar’s Worldview-2 satellite, shows a closeup of a field hospital and troop deployment in western Belgorod.

This image, snapped on Feb. 21, 2022, by Maxar’s Worldview-2 satellite, shows a closeup of a field hospital and troop deployment in western Belgorod. (Image credit: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies)
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This image, snapped on Feb. 22, 2022, by Maxar’s Worldview-1 satellite, shows an overview of new deployments at Pochep, Russia.

This image, snapped on Feb. 22, 2022, by Maxar’s Worldview-1 satellite, shows an overview of new deployments at Pochep, Russia. (Image credit: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies)
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This image, snapped on Feb. 22, 2022, by Maxar’s Worldview-1 satellite, shows land clearing and new deployments at Pochep, Russia.

This image, snapped on Feb. 22, 2022, by Maxar’s Worldview-1 satellite, shows land clearing and new deployments at Pochep, Russia. (Image credit: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies)
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This image, snapped on Feb. 22, 2022, by Maxar’s Worldview-1 satellite, shows troop tents and a housing area at Pochep, Russia.

This image, snapped on Feb. 22, 2022, by Maxar’s Worldview-1 satellite, shows troop tents and a housing area at Pochep, Russia. (Image credit: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies)
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This image, snapped on Feb. 22, 2022, by a Maxar Worldview satellite, shows heavy equipment transporters in western Klintsy, Russia.

This image, snapped on Feb. 22, 2022, by a Maxar Worldview satellite, shows heavy equipment transporters in western Klintsy, Russia. (Image credit: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies)

Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket is best known for launching Cygnus robotic resupply missions to the space station, including one that flew to orbit successfully on Saturday (Feb. 19). Antares features a Ukrainian-built first stage powered by two Russian-made RD-181 engines.

“We’re obviously monitoring the situation,” Kurt Eberly, director of space launch for Northrop Grumman, said during a livestreamed press conference last Friday (Feb. 18). “Hopefully it can be resolved … [but] the best mitigation we can have is to be buying ahead.”

Eberly added that all of the hardware the company needs for two forthcoming Cygnus missions is on hand at the launch site, NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Dates for the next two launches have not yet been released, but he said the hope is that the supplies will “tide us over until until these tensions can subside, and we can be back to normal operating procedure.”

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket launches two Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program satellites for the U.S. Space Force on Jan. 21, 2022.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket launches two Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program satellites for the U.S. Space Force on Jan. 21, 2022.  (Image credit: ULA)

The ISS won’t be left high and dry if the flow of RD-181s stops, however. NASA plans two more agency-funded cargo resupply runs in the spring, officials stated during the same press conference, and has a choice as well of using SpaceX Dragon capsules, which regularly deliver cargo to the station already. NASA has not published dates for the expected missions on its forthcoming launches calendar. 

Less certain is the situation with Russia’s robotic Progress cargo spacecraft, which is largely meant to resupply the Russian side of the station. Progress also regularly reboosts the ISS, to keep it from losing altitude in low Earth orbit; Cygnus is going to do an operational reboost for the first time sometime during its current mission, perhaps to demonstrate a backup capability.

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Also potentially affected by supply disruptions would be ULA, which uses Russian-made RD-180 engines for its workhorse Atlas V rocket that sends numerous missions to space every year. 

Notable Atlas V launches coming soon include the GOES-T Earth observation mission, which is scheduled for no earlier than March 1, and the Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule, which is targeted for late May.

OFT-2 will send Starliner on an uncrewed test run to the ISS, to show that it’s ready to carry astronauts for NASA. As the name implies, OFT-2 will be Boeing’s second try at this mission, following a flawed test that took place in December 2019. Technical, logistical and schedule problems have pushed OFT-2’s target liftoff date back on multiple occasions.

But ULA does not anticipate any supply-chain issues related to the Russia-Ukraine situation, for it already has all the RD-180s that it needs. 

“ULA has taken delivery of the last projected RD-180 engines, and they are safely stored in our factory in Decatur, Alabama,” Jessica Rye, director of external communications at ULA, told Space.com via email. “We are managing the flyout of the RD-180 engines as we transition to our new Vulcan launch vehicle.”

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.