Review: European-Russian Space Cooperation
by Gurbir Singh
|It survived because key ingredients were established at the outset including annual reunions, long-term high-level political support, patience, mutual goodwill, and picking the right kind of projects to work on.|
As the title suggests, the author starts the first chapter with Charles de Gaulle arriving in Moscow in June 1966 as president of France. De Gaulle’s connections with Russia started back in World War I as a prisoner of war in Germany alongside Mikhail Tukhachevsky, who later became one of Stalin’s marshals. De Gaulle’s first visit to Moscow was in 1944, then representing the Free French movement. In addition to this deep-rooted connection with Russia, de Gaulle considered the “special relationship” between the UK and the US as subservient and ensured France did not follow. Re-elected in 1965, de Gaulle used his fresh mandate to reassert French independence and withdrew France from NATO command in March 1966 just three months before his arrival in Moscow. These conditions set the path for France and later Europe on their unique collaboration in space that persists to this day.
This is probably the first English-language analysis of the individuals, institutions, and early space projects that would eventually lead not just France but Europe becoming a leader in designing, building, and operating complex space infrastructure. The book traces collaborative space projects between USSR/Russia and Britain (Jodrell Bank tracking and communication), Germany and its specialization in X-ray astronomy (Spectre RG project), Italy spacecraft manufacture (most recently ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter and lander Schiaparelli), and the several formerly Eastern bloc countries (i.e. Hungary, Romania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany) who took advantage of the existing cultural connections with scientific and industrial institutions in the Soviet Union where the scientist and engineers spoke Russian.
Reminiscent of Gagarin’s visit to the UK five years earlier, de Gaulle‘s 1966 USSR visit was marked not only by the motorcycle escort and hordes of public that lined de Gaulle’s route. A visit to Baikonur (first by a representative of the West) and a hotline by between the Kremlin and the Elys&ecaute;e palace illustrated that both sides were committed to a deep and long relationship.
The agreement to collaborate in space was signed on June 30, 1966. Half a century later, perhaps its success can be traced to the fact that it was signed alongside others for scientific, technical, and economic cooperation. This broader and deeper commitment facilitated establishing multiple complex projects between peoples from differing cultures, politics, and languages. It was a “miracle that the Franco-Russian cooperation survived this test,” writes Harvey. It survived because key ingredients were established at the outset including annual reunions, long-term high-level political support, patience, mutual goodwill, and picking the right kind of projects to work on.
The book’s 400 pages deals with collaboration in scientific, industrial, human spaceflight, and ExoMars in six chapters. The story of collaboration is largely a USSR-European one, but lead and facilitated by France. Many of the same European countries were engaged in separate collaborative projects with the US as well. With some exceptions, there was largely no cooperation in space between the USA and USSR.
|Despite the hurdles, Europe and Russia have benefited from decades of cooperation in space.|
The first major project between the West and USSR was the launch of France’s satellite SRET in 1970 followed by a jointly produced satellite, Aureole 1, in December 1971. That success secured additional projects with other European countries. A series of satellites for scientific exploration of the Sun followed, first with a joint French series of satellites called Prognoz and, later, Interkosmos jointly with Sweden. There were also investigations in biology (BION, 1973 and 2013) and material science (Foton, 1985 and 2014), as well as comet, Moon and planetary exploration, especially Venus and Mars along with space-based observatories Astron, Kvant, Gamma, Granat, and Spektr.
Collaboration allowed European astronauts to get in to space on Soviet rockets whereas politics and cost prevented access via America’s space shuttle just as it became operational. In the 1970s, several astronauts from the Warsaw Pact countries got a ride to Salyut 6. Jean-Loup Chr&ecaute;tien from France was the first Western astronaut to arrive on Salyut 7 in 1982, and with a second flight 1988. German, Austrian, and British astronauts followed. The Russian dominance in human spaceflight was highlighted once the Space Shuttle was retired in 2011. From then to 2020 the Russian Soyuz was the only transport to the space station for American astronauts. The author explores four almost-forgotten projects for European human spaceflight projects: Hermes, Mir 1.5, Kliper, and ACTS, which never came to pass. If they had, Europe today would have a “much stronger role in human spaceflight,” he writes. Instead, Europe remains devoid of a human-rated launch vehicle.
Industrial cooperation driven predominantly by commercial and economic interests proved to be the most challenging. Those problems are being addressed today through market competition by the emerging private space sector. Then, the launch of communication satellites was particularly lucrative with only the USSR and USA having a foothold from the outset. Europe’s entry with Ariane was made particularly difficult by the USA “refusing to sell fuel for it,” he writes, including obstacles and sanctions from Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (CoCom) or International Traffic in Arms Regulation. The author highlights the role of the little-known CoCom. Whereas ITAR was established to maintain American interests in the USA, CoCom (based in an annex of the American embassy in Paris) appears to do the same in the heart of Europe.
Despite the hurdles, Europe and Russia have benefited from decades of cooperation in space. European spacecraft and astronauts continue to be launched by Soyuz and European scientific instruments have explored the solar system courtesy of Soviet/Russian spacecraft. The Soviet Union/Russia benefited from European expertise in designing, building operating instruments for space and planetary exploration. The USSR, and then Russia, learned project management approach from Europeans. The Soyuz launch facilities in Kourou, close to the Equator, is a particularly tangible outcome for Russia, a direct product of decades of Franco-Russian cooperation.
Europe has an admirable history of Interplanetary exploration. The book highlights the central role of Russian launchers in making possible ESA’s Mars Express and Venus Express mission. Soyuz launches have also facilitated Europe’s flagship projects of Copernicus and Galileo. In the final chapter the book outlines the long, convoluted, and costly journey of realizing ExoMars. The project has been through several iterations of design and planning to arrive at the orbiter, lander, rover, and sample return objectives. This is one example of international cooperation that now includes the United States, too.
This is probably the first English-language analysis of the individuals, institutions, and early space projects that would eventually lead not just France but Europe to its status as a leader in designing, building, and operating complex space infrastructure. In the first chapter, “Early Days,” the author refers to John F. Kennedy’s little-known but perhaps most powerful speech on June 10, 1963, Strategy for Peace. It would have been interesting to see the author’s assessment on how collaboration in space has cultivated peace on Earth.
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