Sanctions, the Russians and Space: Kto Kvo?

2014-04-26  For those of us who remember Russian history, kto kvo was Lenin’s famous quote about political struggle.

The question of who benefits is a foundation for any political maneuvering, not short term “tough” policy stances.

We published a piece earlier on the challenge of imposing sanctions on the Russians as an effective policy tool.  In that piece the focus was upon the Russians leveraging their partners to go around the impact of sanctions.

Another problem is industrial interdependence in space and aerospace. 

The Russians have built a solid basis in the Western space business, and this means that Western companies are dependent upon Russian launch capabilities as a normal part of the functioning of the space business.  In turn this means, that the Russians have natural allies in the West to lobby against sanctions as well.

In an interesting piece written by European-based reporter Peter B. de Sedling and published in this week’s Space News, the problem of the impact of sanctions on the satellite business is the focus of attention.

U.S.-built satellites and satellites with U.S. components scheduled for launch this year from Russian territory, including the Russian-run Baikonur Cosmodrome — and vehicles outside Russian territory managed by Russian interests — are now faced with being denied the normally routine shipment approvals as U.S. sanctions against Russia, put into place in March, bite further into the space industry, industry officials said.

The most immediately affected companies included satellite fleet operator SES of Luxembourg, whose Astra 2G telecommunications satellite was scheduled for a June launch aboard a Proton rocket from Baikonur; London-based Inmarsat, which was counting on two Proton launches this year to start its global Ka-band mobile broadband project; and Turksat of Turkey, whose Turksat 4B was scheduled for a midsummer launch on a Proton.

“This is going to be a huge problem for the entire industry if the sanctions are not lifted soon,” said one official planning a launch on Russian territory this year. “If the Russian Proton rocket is not going to be available, then it’s an industry problem, not just a problem for a couple of companies. Ariane’s manifest is full, and so is SpaceX’s. Sea Launch is not a full option at this stage.” Credit: ILS photo

“This is going to be a huge problem for the entire industry if the sanctions are not lifted soon,” said one official planning a launch on Russian territory this year. “If the Russian Proton rocket is not going to be available, then it’s an industry problem, not just a problem for a couple of companies. Ariane’s manifest is full, and so is SpaceX’s. Sea Launch is not a full option at this stage.” Credit: ILS photo

The first problem for the industry is simply how taut the launch market currently is and the important role, which Proton launches play for today’s satellite industry.

According to “one official planning a launch on Russian territory this year. “If the Russian Proton rocket is not going to be available, then it’s an industry problem, not just a problem for a couple of companies. Ariane’s manifest is full,and so is SpaceX’s. Sea Launch is not a full option at this stage.”

The second problem is whether or not the sanctions apply to the “Europeanized” Soyuz as well. 

France is the “launching state” in terms of legal responsibility for the European spaceport. But the Arianespace consortium contracts with the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, for the purchase of Soyuz rockets.

The Europeanized Soyuz’s position relative to the current U.S. sanctions will not be tested until late this year at the earliest. The next launch of the rocket, scheduled for June, is of four broadband communications satellites owned by O3b of Britain’s Channel Islands. The four satellites, which have U.S. components, arrived in French Guiana on April 25.

Following that, a Soyuz launch of two European Galileo positioning, navigation and timing satellites is scheduled for August. These two have U.S. parts, but one official said their license to ship has already been granted and that they will arrive in French Guiana in mid-May.

How best to deal with the impact of sanctions?

Lobby Washington to change the policy seems to be the answer.

“Several industry officials said they are counting on companies that are practiced in the arts of Washington lobbying to have the policy modified so that, for example, exceptions for some satellite programs — those that already have their basic export licenses — could be granted.”

The policy problem can be simply put: having a sanctions policy without a change in space launch policy simply will not work. 

If one is contemplating and longer term competition with the Russians, then addressing the future of space and shaping a Russian-free US policy which is commercially competitive makes sense.

What does not make sense is short term sanctions to make a point, and have that policy overturned by Western interests to protect the Russians.

But this is the most likely outcome.

 

 

"If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking."

—General George Patton Jr.

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