Beyond Earth: The Impact of Ukraine-Russia Conflict on Outer Space


Beginning in February 2022, Russia started to launch a “special military operation” by deploying military troops to Ukraine’s territory. Starting by shelling a few locations in the east, north, and south, the Russian military attacked Bakhmut in the Donbas region. The Russian army enlarged its action to different locations, including Mariupol. There are various backgrounds from the war. From Putin’s administration perspective, he wants unity among the Eastern Slavs (Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians) because they came from the same Rus Commonwealth, and they expect can work together and share a common political understanding in the future. Moreover, the Putin administration claimed the West (EU and USA) was using Ukraine and Belarus as part of an “anti-Russia Project.”

 Back then to 2014, Russia annexed Crimea and intervened in Donbas by using “commonwealth”  and a similar identity to people in Crimea. The conflict influenced many sectors at an international level, like trade, global agenda, monetary, G20 meetings, and the post-covid development process. However, we are missing something more important from the post-conflict aspect: outer space.

Russian in Space Activity

In the historical record, Russia was the leading actor in space activity; from Yuri Gagarin, the first cosmonaut that reached the galaxy, Russia’s capability in space can not be underestimated. Through Roscosmos, the Russian national entity in space, Russia achieved many goals in space activity (Even in the Soviet era). Russia became the first country to send humans to space by using spacecraft, the first country to send the first satellite in the world (Sputnik 1), and the first country with a space station (Salyut). In the modern era, Russia has become a superpower country that has space weapons. Moskow shows their interest in space weapons for military purposes. For instance, Russia has the first Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (FOBs) as a nuclear-delivery system. Russia also has the advanced kinetic satellite intercept and can use on the ground and intercept satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Furthermore, Russia has the most advanced capability in kinetic satellite jamming, GPS signal interference by using mobile electronic warfare systems, Krona optical surveillance system for satellite detection, and satellite bodyguards, which can protect the other Russian satellites from threats in the galaxy.

From the beginning, Russia established the first rudimentary station in the world by linking the two Soyuz vehicles in 1969. After that, the USA developed its own space station called US Skylab. After 24 years and finishing more than 30 missions, Russia plays an important role in the ISS. in late July 2022, Russia contributed a few significant technologies to ISS, namely: Full configuration docking system, Orlan MKS spacesuit, and Fedor robot that the first humanoid cosmonaut with safety purposes. In the past, Russia contributed various modules, and the critical technology in ISS was The Zvezda Service Module. The Zvezda is a former part of the Mir-2 space station in the Soviet era and is still in use until now.

Impact on Space Activity

After the war began, the EU state members embargoed Russia from economic activity, followed by the USA. The crisis dragged us to the edge of a cliff. According to the  Consilium EU, member states of the EU applied six months embargo packages, covering; finance, energy, technology, dual-use goods, industry, transport, and luxury goods. After various embargoes and monetary limitations, Moscow responded to the EU policies by cutting oil distribution to EU countries. The Putin administration also applied for trade payments with Russian currency. The conflict between two countries transformed into a multi-state conflict. Before we jump too deep into this issue, it is essential to know about the ISS functional. International Space Station or popularly called ISS, was multilateral cooperation among countries in the world. The primary purpose of ISS was to explore potential resources in space. ISS has 15 state members and elaborates on achieving various missions, such as technology development and maintaining services sectors such as telecommunication, banking, commercial, and education.

The Putin administration knows about Russian power. As we already have seen above, Russian space capabilities can not be underestimated. Facing the embargoes that the West launched, Moscow decided to leave the ISS in 2024, according to Yuri Borisov,  Head of state-controlled space corporation Roscosmos, and focus on building their space station. With all Russia’s contributions to the ISS, this orbital outpost depends on Russian modules that have existed for a long time, such as the Zvezda service module and a few modules belonging to Russia. The next question mark on our heads is, what is the impact of Russia leaving the ISS? For instance,  Zvezda, the vital contribution from Russia, had a necessary task in ISS operation. This module was the core to providing living quarters as well as refueling capability to the fledgling ISS. Moreover,  the Zarya Control module has the capability to maneuver and power suppliers at the initial phase of the station’s life and later became a storage vehicle for cargo and propellant. NEP, Science and Power platform, is also necessary. This module has a special truss and was expected to carry an array of solar panels, power-generating concentrators, radiators, and scientific payloads.

Future Space Rivalry

Due to the cost and limitations of technology, space should be administered by cooperation among countries. Transferring knowledge and technology is a key to managing space peacefully. However, international actors and significant nations around the globe are trapped in competition. Bring outer space to the anarchy world. Each major government was weaponizing outer space with high-tech arms. Today, China has established its own space outpost called Tiangong, providing its satellites with “security” arms, testing their space weapon, and creating a billion space debris. India has tested their FOBs and attached satellite jamming in various locations on the entire land, and the EU has launched a mega constellation project in the near future to boost telecommunication services and secure their assets in space. We can assume that, after Russia leaves ISS and builds its own space station, space rivalry will become more complex and uncontrollable, especially since many private sectors and developing countries show their interest in space.

Ade Meirizal
Ade Meirizal
A student Masterdegree program in International Relations UGM Founder Passionated in space policy and International Relations.


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