With the conflict in Ukraine still ongoing, there have been several hits on Russia and some of its allies - including Belarus. However, keeping true to his word, Russian President Vladimir Putin has also been hitting back.
Early this month, the Russian space agency stopped all shipments of rocket engines to the United States, hoping to at least slow down space explorations in the West.
“Fly On Your Broomsticks”
In an official announcement, Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, confirmed that it would stop all rocket engine shipments to the United States. Dmitry Rogozin, the space agency's head, said on Russian state-run TV that the agency will cease its shipments, and Western space companies can "fly to space on their broomsticks."
Rogozin claimed in his interview that Russia had delivered 122 RD-180 engines to the United States, of which 98 have now been used. As part of the Roscosmos' decision, the agency has said it would stop servicing these cricket engines. This means that the 24 engines that haven't been used will now be without any assistance from the Russian space agency.
Interestingly, the Russian space authorities haven't just cut ties with the United States. Roscosmos also announced that it would no longer collaborate with German space authorities on the International Space Station (ISS) research. In its tweet, the space agency explained that it would adjust its space program against the backdrop of the new sanctions, and it will now prioritize creating defense satellites.
In fact, Roscosmos has now threatened to stop all collaborations on the ISS. Speaking in an interview with Russian channel RT, Rogozin said:
"We will closely monitor the actions of our American partners, and if they continue to be hostile, we will return to the question of the existence of the International Space Station. I would not like such a scenario because I expect that the Americans will cool down."
NASA officials have maintained that they are still collaborating with the Russians on the ISS, but things could change at any time.
All Eyes On The ULA And Northrop
The decision from Roscosmos will be especially detrimental to just two companies - the United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Northrop Grumman.ULA is a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, and the company uses Russia's RD-180 engine to power its workhorse Atlas V rocket. But, the rocket itself has been a pretty controversial one.
After Russia first invaded the originally Ukrainian territory of Crimea in 2014, Congress ordered an immediate halt to the use of Russian engines in launching national security vehicles. The decision immediately affected the ULA, as the organization was unable to use Russia's Atlas V rocker for Defense Department missions.
The ban was eventually lifted, but it gave the ULA an incentive to reduce its reliance on Russian rocket engines. The ULA eventually developed a new rocket - called Vulcan. And, it selected Blue Origin to build the engine for the Vulcan rocket. While the engine's delivery is being delayed, ULA CEO Tony Bruno has confirmed that Russia's new ban will have a minimal effect on it.
As for Northrop Grumman, the company uses Russia's RD-181 engine to power its Antares rocket. The rocket launches the company's Cygnus spacecraft, which carries cargo to and from the ISS for NASA. With Northrop Grumman not making any comments yet, it is unclear how the new sanctions will affect its launches going forward.
Much Fuss Over Nothing
Besides the ULA and Northrop, it's difficult to see how Russia's shipment halt will have any real effects. The United States has been working to reduce its reliance on Russian space engines over the past few years. Private space companies have also done their best to optimize their operations without needing foreign-sourced parts.
Just a few hours after the Roscosmos announcement came out, SpaceX launched 47 Starlink satellites into orbit using its Falcon 9 rocket. Elon Musk, the company's chief executive, shared a comment on Twitter, taunting Roscosmos by calling the Falcon 9 rocket an "American broomstick."
Musk has been especially critical of the Russian government. Rogozin criticized the characteristically brash billionaire after SpaceX provided Starlink internet access to Ukraine. But he didn't back down, insinuating that SpaceX wouldn't need to step in if Ukraine's internet and communication systems weren't being attacked by the Russian military.
SpaceX itself has several contracts with NASA to send personnel and cargo to the ISS on the Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX makes all of its tools in the United States, so it is relatively immune to any actions taken by the Roscosmos.