New cracks were spotted again recently in the Russian segment of the ISS, which is in very poor condition; a situation which could precipitate the departure of the Russian contingent, thus turning a page in our history … and in global geopolitics.
Russian cosmonauts recently made a disturbing discovery aboard the International Space Station: the Russian Zorya module apparently has several shallow cracks, but large enough to be worrying.
“This is bad news”Vladimir Solovyov told the RIA news agency bluntly. For this chief engineer at Energia, the mastodon of the Russian aerospace industry, “This suggests that these cracks will expand over time”. We do not know on what type of surface these cracks occurred. But this prospect must probably freeze the blood of the astronauts, locked in the middle of the sidereal void 400km above the ground.
A Russian segment hanging by a thread
However, there is no doubt about the causes of the damage: predictable wear of a module that was part of the very first to be assembled in 1998. He has therefore already spent 23 years facing the most inhospitable environment there is. But the worry is that this situation does not only concern Zorya; a large part of the Russian segment of the station would apparently be in a deplorable state, which raises many security questions. Even the brand new Nauka module has caused engineers a lot of headaches, as it recently loaded the entire space station into one. uncontrolled rotation of one hour.
“About 80% of the systems on board the Russian segment of the ISS have encountered numerous problems, including air leaks caused by cracks”, Alert Solovyov, quoted by the Moscow Times . “This means that once these systems are fully depleted, irreparable failures could occur.”, He insists, even speaking of a“avalanche of failures”By 2025.
In addition to American sanctions which added fuel to the fire, these incidents led Russian officials to distance themselves; in early June, Roscosmos, the historical Russian space agency, announced its desire to leave the ISS program in 2025 to focus on its own projects. In this case, it is first of all a question of building their own space station, with the objective of launching it in 2030.
Among the other major Russian aerospace projects, we must also mention the alliance with its Chinese counterpart, which should lead to the construction of a common moon base by 2035.
Roscosmos in search of a new lease of life
But ultimately, all these projects have more or less the same purpose: to restore the image of Russian aerospace, inherited directly from the Soviet Union. In addition to being gangrenous by a corruption massive, Roscosmos is losing ground technologically. Because the aerospace landscape has changed a lot in recent years. Until recently, the Soyuz were still a privileged way to reach the ISS; in 2014, a Russian official even mocked the Americans, explaining that they could still join the ISS “and trampoline”If Russia stopped cooperating.
But the privatisation sector, and in particular the arrival of SpaceX, NASA’s new darling, has shifted all the balance of power; NASA emancipated itself from the Russian Soyuz, and the Russian agency found itself thrown from its last privileged place. Something to look down on, after having been the undisputed and above all essential master of the discipline for years.
With its space station and its lunar outpost, Roscosmos hopes to launch a new era for all Russian aerospace. And it’s not just a matter of technological sovereignty; it is also the occasion or never to return in a race with titanic geopolitical implications.
At the same time, Russian secession would mark the end of a very special era of cooperation in the history of the conquest of space. Because the ISS also represents much more than a simple scientific mission; According to the Russian expert Vitaly Yegorov, quoted by AFP, the station represents a sort of haven of peace. This “unwavering ivory tower”Plays a key role as a pretext, a common objective to maintain international cooperation. It will therefore be very interesting to observe the sequence of events, because with the Russian segment of the ISS, a whole section of international space cooperation is also falling to shreds… with potentially considerable geopolitical consequences.