Russia wants to trade 36 hijacked satellites for Soyuz rocket

Russia wants to trade 36 hijacked satellites for Soyuz rocket

Russia wants to trade 36 hijacked satellites for Soyuz rocket

Russian Soyuz rockets were used to launch OneWeb satellites from French Guiana.

Russian Soyuz rockets were used to launch OneWeb satellites from France Guyana.

The Russian space agency may be willing to return 36 satellites it held hostage in Kazakhstan in exchange for parts of its Soyuz rockets held in French Guyana.

According to a report according to Russian Space Web, French aerospace company Arianespace could be exploring a deal with Roscosmos to exchange parts of Russia’s Soyuz rocket for 36 OneWeb satellites held at the launch site in Kazakhstan since March. The newly appointed head of Roscosmos, Yuri Borisov, is reportedly open to negotiations with Arianespace, a source told Russian Space Web.

Arianespace and OneWeb did not immediately respond to our request for confirmation of the Russian Space Web report. We’ll update this post if we hear back.

Led by former Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin, the space agency cut ties with Europe in retaliation for sanctions imposed on Russia by the West. That included an ongoing deal it had with British company OneWeb to launch its Internet satellites aboard Soyuz rockets. OneWeb refused to agree to one list of unreasonable demands brought forward by Roscosmos in March, prompting Russia to detain and store the company’s 36 satellites indefinitely at its launch facility in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. OneWeb eventually new partnerships with SpaceX and the Indian Space Agency to launch the remaining satellites into orbit, but the 36 lone satellites remained out of reach.

Roscosm too stopped its cooperation with Europe in Soyuz rocket launches from French Guiana and withdrew 87 employees from the launch site. But when Russian involvement in French Guiana ended, Soyuz rocket components were left behind, as Anatoly Zak writes on Russian Space Web:

On the orders of Roskosmos head Dmitry Rogozin, dozens of Russian specialists were abruptly withdrawn from French Guiana in early March 2022, leaving behind the rocket stages, propellant containers, support hardware and documentation. The Paris-based Arianespace company, which contracted Roskosmos to supply and support Soyuz launches with European and most non-Russian commercial payloads, took custody of the stored equipment until its expected return to Russia. However, due to the serious deterioration of diplomatic relations and economic activities between Europe and Moscow, Russian hardware remained in French Guiana for the rest of 2022.

With Russia gone from French Guiana, the European Space Agency turns to American company SpaceX to launch his forthcoming Euclid telescope into orbit rather than launching it aboard a Soyuz rocket.

Following Rogozin’s resignation from his position at Roscosmos, the space agency could take a more diplomatic approach to its space partnerships. But it may take a while. The Russian Space Web source said there are still some logistical hurdles to deal with, which is why negotiations are progressing at a sluggish pace. For example, Russian specialists would have to get new visas to enter French Guyana and retrieve the missile components, a process made more difficult by Russia’s severed ties with Europe.

The previous year was a tumultuous one for both the Russian and European space industries; Russia lost key space partners while Europe looked for ways to achieve orbit without access to Soyuz rockets. Whether that will change this year remains to be seen, but an ongoing swap deal could be a good move for now.

More: Europe has few options for reaching space after Vega-C rocket crash

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