Has Russia Lost its Space Mojo?

Image (Credit): Russia’s Progress 76 resupply ship approaching the ISS in July 2020. (NASA)

Marina Koren’s article in The Atlantic, titled “The Russian Space Program Is Falling Back to Earth,” has plenty to say about the state of Russia’s space program. Her assessment is pretty bleak outside of the continued collaboration related to the International Space Station (ISS).

She notes:

Beyond the ISS, though, Russia’s space portfolio isn’t all that grandiose these days. Although cosmonauts fly into orbit regularly, Russia does not have a rover on the far side of the moon, as China has, or orbiters around Mars, as India and the United Arab Emirates have. It does not have a fleet of space telescopes like the U.S has. The Soviet Union was the first to send a human being to space, decades ago, and its early accomplishments are a distinct point of national pride. But the Russian space program has stalled for years, plagued by sparse budgets. And that was before Vladimir Putin’s onslaught on Ukraine: Some of the space plans the country still had in the works are falling apart. Now the Russian space effort may be more adrift than ever.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine may be the last straw. It led to the cancellation of various collaborative space projects with other nations. For instance, back in March the European Space Agency (ESA) was forced to suspend its joint ESA/Roscosmos ExoMars Rover mission to Mars.

China seems to be pulling ahead of Russia in the space race, with Russia taking a back seat on future projects, such as a Moon base or new space station. On the ground, Russia has shown it is not up to a war with Ukraine, making its role as a military power questionable. The article notes that Russia’s status as a space power is now also in question.

And shooting down another nation’s satellites will not be seen as a sign of strength in either the military or space arena.