NASA and Roscosmos sign a long-awaited agreement on joint flights to the ISS, despite tensions in Ukraine

NASA astronauts will return to flying on Russian rockets, and Russian cosmonauts will fly to the International Space Station (ISS) with US company SpaceX from September, as announced.

NASA and Russian space agency Roskosmos have signed a long-awaited ISS flight integration agreement that will allow Russian cosmonauts to fly American-made spacecraft in exchange for American astronauts being able to fly Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

The deal ensures that there will always be at least one American and one Russian aboard the space station to keep both sides of the orbiting outpost running smoothly, NASA and Russian officials said.

An exchange that was somewhat overshadowed by the news of Change of leadership in Roskomos – was in development for a long time and was completed on Friday, despite tensions over the war in Ukraine, indicating the continuation of Russian-American cooperation in space.

“The agreement is in the interests of Russia and the United States and will promote the development of cooperation within the framework of the ISS program,” Roscosmos said in a statement, adding that it will promote “the exploration of outer space for peaceful purposes.”

NASA said the agreement would “ensure the continued safe operation” of the space station and protect those living on board.

Now there are seven people there: three Americans and one Italian who flew in on SpaceX, and three Russians who flew in on the Soyuz.

Tensions around the ISS

NASA and Roscosmos, the main partners of the two-decade-old space station, have for years sought to resume regular integrated crewed flights as part of a long-standing civil alliance of the agencies – now one of the latest links in cooperation between the US and Russia. — while tensions mount over what Moscow calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.

The first integrated flights under the new deal will take place in September, when US astronaut Frank Rubio will fly to the space station from Moscow’s leased Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan along with two cosmonauts, Sergei Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin, NASA said.

That same month, Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina will join two Americans and one Japanese aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft taking off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The next crew change will take place next spring.

According to NASA, no money will change hands in the agreement.

NASA astronauts were regularly launched on Russian Soyuz rockets – at tens of millions of euros apiece – until SpaceX began flying station crews from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in 2020.

Russian cosmonauts flew to the space station on NASA shuttles back in the early 2000s.

Before that, in the 1990s, astronauts and cosmonauts took turns flying each other’s spacecraft to and from Russia’s Mir station.

Rogozin leaves Roskosmos

Shortly before the agreement was announced, President Vladimir Putin replaced the head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, with Yuri Borisov, a former deputy prime minister and deputy defense minister.

The Kremlin did not comment on the reasons for the change.

Rogozin took a confrontational stance after Roscosmos was sanctioned for its role in the Russian defense industry after Russia sent tens of thousands of troops to Ukraine.

He threatened to leave the ISS, saying that cooperation with the West was “impossible” and defiantly boasted of Russia’s nuclear potential.

In a video posted to his Telegram channel, Roscosmos hailed the progress made at the space agency under Rogozin, who was appointed in 2018.

These achievements included “a record 86 successful launches in a row, the construction of the Russian segment of the ISS … and flight tests of a powerful intercontinental ballistic missile,” Roskosmos said in a statement.

Rogozin touted the new Sarmat missile’s ability to launch a nuclear strike on the United States and said it would be ready by autumn after successful tests earlier this year.

Rogozin appears to have reveled in Western trolling, including arguing on Twitter with billionaire Elon Musk, talking publicly about Russia’s nuclear missile capabilities, and posting coordinates and satellite images of Western defense installations with hints that they could be targeted.