August 18, 2022

Russia halts Soyuz rocket launches from South America over European sanctions on Ukraine invasion

Russia halts Soyuz rocket launches from South America over European sanctions on Ukraine invasion
Russia halts Soyuz rocket launches from South America over European sanctions on Ukraine invasionRussia halts Soyuz rocket launches from South America over European sanctions on Ukraine invasion

The Russian space agency Roscosmos is stopping all Soyuz rocket launches from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana due to European Union sanctions on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

“In response to EU sanctions against our enterprises, Roscosmos is suspending cooperation with European partners in organizing space launches from the Kourou cosmodrome and withdrawing its personnel, including the consolidated launch crew, from French Guiana,” Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin said in a Twitter statement on Saturday (Feb. 26) according to a translation from Russian.

Russia is also recalling 87 Russian workers from Europe’s South American spaceport in French Guiana who support Soyuz rocket launches for Roscosmos and the Russian companies NPO Lavochkin a, Progress RCC and TsENKI, according to a second Twitter statement from Roscosmos.

“The issue of the departure of Russian employees is being worked out,” Roscosmos wrote. Russia’s moves come as European Union nations, the United States and other countries have levied severe economic sanctions on Russia following the country’s invasion of Ukraine on Thursday (Feb. 24). 

Related: Russian space chief says US sanctions could ‘destroy’ International Space Station partnership

Russia’s Soyuz rockets are used by the European launch provider Arianespace to launch satellites from the Guiana Space Center near Kourou, French Guiana, as well as from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan (where Russia regularly launches its own Soyuz missions). The most recent Soyuz rocket to launch from Guiana Space Center lifted off on Feb. 10 carrying 34 OneWeb internet satellites.

Arianespace, based in France, also uses its own European Ariane 5 heavy-lift rocket and Vega rocket for smaller launches from French Guiana. 

Arianespace’s next Soyuz launch was scheduled for early April to launch two Galileo navigation satellites into orbit for the European Union’s Galileo constellation. That mission will almost certainly be delayed due to Russia’s announcement on Saturday. 

Thierry Breton, the European Commissioner for Space, said Russia’s decision to halt Soyuz launches with Europe will not interrupt any services for users of the Galileo satellites or of the E.U.’s Copernicus Earth observation satellite program. 

“I confirm that this decision has no consequences on the continuity and quality of the Galileo and Copernicus services,” Breton said in the statement. “Nor does this decision put the continued development of these infrastructures at risk.”

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Breton added that the E.U. and its member states are “ready to act decisively” in order to “protect these critical infrastructures in case of aggression,” and that it will  “continue to develop Ariane 6 and Vega C to ensure Europe’s strategic autonomy in the area of launchers.”

The Ariane 6 rocket is Europe’s successor to the Ariane 5 and is expected to make its first flight sometime later in 2022. The Vega C rocket is a follow-on to Europe’s Vega rocket that is designed to reach more orbits and carry more diverse payloads for the same cost. The European Space Agency and Arianespace are working to develop the Ariane 6 and Vega-C rockets. 

On Friday (Feb. 25), ESA Director-General Josef Aschbacher said in a statement that the European space officials were “closely monitoring what’s happening” in Ukraine while weighing any response. ESA is working closely with Russia’s space program to launch the European ExoMars rover mission to Mars later this year.

In addition to calling off Soyuz launches from French Guiana, Rogozin also announced Saturday that he no longer felt a joint Russian-U.S. collaboration on Russia’s planned Venera-D mission to Venus was necessary, given the ongoing sanctions. 

In a separate statement, Rogozin wrote that he found it “inappropriate” for any continued participation of the U.S. in the Russian Venus mission, which was slated to launch sometime in the 2020s. NASA scientists began talks with Russia to participate in the Venera-D mission in 2017

Email Tariq Malik at tmalik@space.com or follow him @tariqjmalik. Follow us @SpacedotcomFacebook and Instagram