Russia’s Roscosmos space agency is halting all Soyuz rocket launches from the European spaceport in French Guiana due to European Union sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“In response to EU sanctions against our companies, Roscosmos suspends its cooperation with European partners to organize space launches from the Kourou cosmodrome and withdraws its personnel, including the consolidated launch crew, from French Guiana,” Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin said. said in a Twitter statement Saturday (February 26) according to a translation from Russian.
Russia is also recalling 87 Russian workers from the European South American spaceport in French Guiana who support Soyuz rocket launches for Roscosmos and Russian companies NPO Lavochkin a, Progress RCC and TsENKI, according to a second Twitter statement from Roscosmos.
“The question of the departure of Russian employees is being worked out”, Roscosmos wrote:. Russia’s moves come as countries in the European Union, the United States and others have imposed tough economic sanctions on Russia following the country’s invasion of Ukraine on Thursday ( February 24).
Related: Russian space chief says US sanctions could ‘destroy’ International Space Station partnership
Russian Soyuz rockets are used by European launch vehicle 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 last Soyuz rocket launched from the Guiana Space Center took off on February 10 with 34 OneWeb Internet satellites.
Arianespace, based in France, also uses its own European heavy rocket Ariane 5 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. This mission will almost certainly be delayed due to Russia’s announcement on Saturday.
Thierry Breton, EU space commissioner, said Russia’s decision to halt Soyuz launches with Europe will not interrupt any service for users of the Galileo satellites or Europe’s observation satellite program Copernicus Earth.
“I confirm that this decision has no consequences on the continuity and quality of the Galileo and Copernicus services,” Breton said in the statement. “This decision also does not jeopardize the continued development of this infrastructure.”
Breton added that the EU and its member states are “ready to act decisively” in order to “protect these critical infrastructures in the event of aggression”, and that they will “pursue the development of Ariane 6 and Vega C to ensure Europe’s strategic autonomy in the field of launchers.”
The Ariane 6 rocket is the European successor to the Ariane 5 and is expected to make its maiden flight sometime later in 2022. The Vega C rocket follows the European Vega rocket which is designed to reach more orbits and carry payloads useful more diversified for the same cost. The European Space Agency and Arianespace are working on the development of the Ariane 6 and Vega-C rockets.
On Friday February 25, ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher said in a statement that European space officials are “closely monitoring what is happening” in Ukraine while weighing any response. ESA is working closely with the Russian space program to launch Europe’s ExoMars rover mission to Mars later this year.
In addition to canceling Soyuz launches from French Guiana, Rogozin also announced on Saturday that he no longer believed that a Russian-American collaboration on the planned Russian Venera-D mission to Venus was no longer necessary, given pending penalties.
In a separate statementRogozin wrote that he finds any continued US participation in the Russian Venus mission, which was due to launch in the 2020s, “inappropriate”. NASA scientists have started talks with Russia to participate in the mission Venera-D in 2017.