Russia Wants to Trade 36 Hijacked Satellites for Soyuz Rocket

Russia's Soyuz rockets were used to launch OneWeb satellites from French Guiana.

Russia’s Soyuz rockets were used to launch OneWeb satellites from France Guiana.

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

according to a report by Russian Space Web, French aerospace company Arianespace may be exploring a deal with Roscosmos to replace components on Russia’s Soyuz rocket 36 OneWeb Satellites held since March at its launch site in Kazakhstan. Yuri Borisov, the newly appointed head of Roscosmos, 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 get any feedback.

Led by former Roscosmos boss Dmitry Rogozin, the space agency cut ties with Europe in retaliation for Western-imposed sanctions on Russia. These included an ongoing contract with British company OneWeb to launch its internet satellites aboard the Soyuz rockets. OneWeb refused to consent to a List of inappropriate demands submitted by Roscosmos in March, prompting Russia to keep the company’s 36 satellites and store them indefinitely at its launch facility in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Finally, OneWeb new partnerships forged with SpaceX and the Indian Space Agency to launch its remaining satellites into orbit, but its 36 lone satellites remained out of range.

Roscosmos too stopped its cooperation with Europe on Soyuz rocket launches from French Guiana and withdrew 87 employees from the launch site. But with the end of Russian involvement in French Guiana, the Soyuz rocket components remained abandoned, as Anatoly Zak writes in the Russian Space Web:

In early March 2022, on the orders of Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin, dozens of Russian specialists were abruptly withdrawn from French Guiana, leaving behind the rocket stages, containers with propellant charges, auxiliary hardware and documentation. Paris-based Arianespace, which hired Roskosmos to provide and support Soyuz launches with European and most non-Russian commercial payloads, took care of the stored equipment pending its expected return to Russia. However, due to the severe breakdown in diplomatic relations and economic activity between Europe and Moscow, Russian hardware remained in French Guiana for the remainder of 2022.

Gone with Russia from French Guiana who The European Space Agency turns to the US company SpaceX to launch its forthcoming Euclid telescope into orbit, rather than launching it aboard a Soyuz rocket.

Following Rogozin’s dismissal from his position at Roscosmos, the space agency could take a more diplomatic approach to its space partnerships. But it could still take a while. The Russian Space Web source said there are still some logistical hurdles to be cleared, which are causing negotiations to move slowly. For example, Russian specialists would have to apply for new visas to enter French Guiana and retrieve the missile parts, a process made more difficult by Russia’s broken ties with Europe.

The past year has been a turbulent one for both the Russian and European space industries; Russia lost key space partners while Europe struggled to find ways to reach orbit without access to Soyuz rockets. Whether that will change this year remains to be seen, but an ongoing swap agreement could be a good move for now.

More: Europe has few options to reach space after Vega-C rocket crash Russia Wants to Trade 36 Hijacked Satellites for Soyuz Rocket

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