Russian withdrawal from ISS Program could result in more Wallops launches

March 5, 2022

   The Russian Government announced it would be withdrawing from the agreement to operate the International Space Station in 2024 due to the sanctions issued by the United States.  Since the Obama administration abandoned the Space Shuttle program,  US astronauts have had to depend on the Russians to travel and return from the ISS. The Russians also provided the service of boosting the ISS in order to allow it to maintain its orbit.

One benefit of the Space Shuttle retirement was the use by NASA of private contractors to resupply the ISS which is currently being done by Northrop Grumman at Wallops and Space-x at Cape Canaveral.

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, the agency is also looking to the private sector to develop destinations in orbit that would replace the space station, drawing interest from such companies as Lockheed Martin Corp. , Boeing Co. and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin LLC, among other space enterprises, according to a document NASA posted to a website regarding that effort.

Separately, at a hearing before a House subcommittee focused on space on Tuesday, Robyn Gatens, NASA’s director for the International Space Station, said the agency believes it could save more than $1 billion annually by purchasing services from private space facilities. The agency currently spends up to $4 billion each year on the research station, officials have said.

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“Those savings are important because we can apply those savings to expand our exploration efforts” to the moon, Mars and elsewhere, Ms. Gatens said at the hearing.

The agency is now starting to prepare for the transition out of the space station, which is expected to be structurally sound until 2028, although it can be used beyond that year, she said.

NASA wants to have commercially run destinations available before it moves out of the space station so there isn’t a gap in operations in orbit, according to Ms. Gatens.

In addition to the 8 ton Neutron rocket which will now officially be manufactured and launched at Wallops, Rocket Lab is developing a larger  Electron  Rocket which could have the capability of transporting humans into space and potentially to the Space Shuttle.  Wallops is under consideration for that project.

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It is not clear whether the project will come to Wallops or whether the time line will be advanced due to the Russian incursion into Ukraine, but in the mean time, Northrop Grumman and Rocket Lab along with other companies will welcome the opportunity to replace the role of the Russians at the ISS. But through partnerships with the State of Virginia and NASA, Wallops is poised to provide services as the space industry grows.


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