Russian Space Personnel Return Home As Co-Operation With Europe Suspended

Russia has started bringing home launchers and rocket specialists from the European Space Agency's launch site, it said today.

Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, is suspending co-operation with Europe at the spaceport in French Guiana, in protest at the sanctions levied on Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine.

Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin wrote on his Telegram channel on Saturday: "In response to EU sanctions against our companies, Roscosmos is suspending cooperation with European partners on space launches from Kourou, and is withdrawing its technical staff... from French Guiana."

On Wednesday, Rogozin tweeted that 29 personnel had already returned to Moscow from the spaceport, which is close to the town of Kourou in the French territory located in South America. The 56 remaining staff are expected to follow shortly, he added.

The EU commissioner for space, Thierry Breton, said on Saturday that Russia's decision to withdraw personnel and Soyuz launchers would not affect the ESA's Galileo navigation system or its Copernicus Earth observation mission.

Breton wrote: "I confirm that this decision has no consequences on the continuity and quality of the Galileo and Copernicus services. Nor does this decision put the continued development of these infrastructures at risk.

"We will take all relevant decisions in response to this decision in due course and continue developing resolutely the second generation of these two EU sovereign space infrastructures."

Galileo is a global navigation system comprised of a constellation of 26 satellites transmitting data to more than 2 billion receivers. It interacts with American GPS and the Russian Glonass system and is able to deliver real-time positioning accuracy down to the meter range.

Breton added: "We are ready to act decisively, together with the member states, to protect these critical infrastructures in case of aggression, and continue to develop Ariane 6 and VegaC to ensure Europe's strategic autonomy in the area of launchers."

On Tuesday afternoon, a hacking group associated with Anonymous—Network Battalion 65 or "NB65"—claimed it had shut down the control center of Roscosmos.

A Twitter account that tracks Anonymous' activities suggested this meant Moscow no longer had control of its own spy satellites.

Roscosmos has denied the claim, however. Rogozin also rejected the speculation on Wednesday, tweeting: "The information of these scammers and petty swindlers is not true. All our space activity control centers are operating normally."

Souyz Ukraine
(Left) A rocket lifts off from the European spaceport in French Guiana. (Right) Ukrainian firefighters work to contain a blaze in buildings that house security service personnel and regional police in the city of Kharkiv, reportedly hit by Russian shells on March 2. SERGEY BOBOK/ ESA/GETTY