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Elon Musk Says SpaceX Can Keep the ISS Flying if Russia Won't

Musk's Dragons stand ready to help.

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The impacts of the Russia-Ukraine conflict are being felt in space.
NASA

Last week, the head of Russia's space agency suggested that the International Space Station was dependent on Russian spacecraft to stay in orbit. But mega-billionaire and Twitter tsunami generator Elon Musk says his own spacecraft can easily fill in to help steer the ISS away from space junk and maintain its altitude.

On Thursday, Dmitry Rogozin, head of Russian space agency Roscosmos, unleashed a tweetstorm in response to the threat of US sanctions that could impact the space program.

In the thread, Rogozin points out that Russian engines help steer the ISS in space. Then the rant took a bizarre turn as he floated the idea of dropping the ISS on our heads should the US and other participating nations kick Russia out of the ISS program.

"If you block cooperation with us, who will save the ISS from an uncontrolled deorbit and fall into the United States or Europe? There is also the option of dropping a 500-ton structure to India and China. Do you want to threaten them with such a prospect? The ISS does not fly over Russia, so all the risks are yours."

Musk answered Rogozin's rhetorical question the following day, replying on Twitter by simply sharing the SpaceX logo.

Russian spacecraft attached to the Russian segment of the ISS are used to adjust the flying laboratory's path and literally help keep it high enough in low Earth orbit so it doesn't fall out of the sky. With some rearranging, SpaceX Dragon capsules could serve the same purpose, according to Musk and others. 

Rogozin is known in space circles for his caustic and mocking tone. When sanctions against Russia were announced in 2014, he suggested NASA use a trampoline to send astronauts to orbit. At the time the US was dependent on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to reach the ISS, a situation that changed with the introduction of the SpaceX Crew Dragon vehicle for crewed missions. 

Musk responded to this barb six years later, in 2020, after a SpaceX Crew Dragon carried NASA astronauts to the ISS for the first time. 

"The trampoline is working," he said at a press conference after the launch. 

NASA sent a statement via email late Thursday in response to Rogozin's comments, saying the space agency "continues working with all our international partners, including the State Space Corporation Roscosmos, for the ongoing safe operations of the International Space Station. 

"The new export control measures will continue to allow US-Russia civil space cooperation. No changes are planned to the agency's support for ongoing in-orbit and ground station operations. The new export control measures will continue to allow US-Russia civil space cooperation."

After NASA announced its intention to continue business as usual with Russia in orbit, Rogozin backed off his belligerent tone, tweeting, "As diplomats say, 'our concerns have been heard'... In the meantime, we continue to analyze the new US sanctions to detail our response."

There are currently two Russian cosmonauts living on the ISS, alongside four American astronauts and the European Space Agency's Matthias Maurer from Germany.  

Next month, three more Russian cosmonauts are set to launch to the ISS. Shortly thereafter, the two cosmonauts on board and one NASA astronaut will return to Earth in a Russian capsule, touching down in Kazakhstan.