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Russia says new US limits on space launch contracts aimed at forcing it out of market

Russia has censured efforts by the US Defense Department to restrict space launch contracts with Russian firms, accusing Washington of trying to unfairly grab market share in the space services industry.

The Pentagon on Friday banned contracts for Russian commercial satellite services that it deemed as posing an unacceptable cyber security risk, according to a noticed published on the US government’s Federal Register.

“The United States has long conducted a policy of trying to squeeze Russia out of the market for launch services,” said the director of Russian space corporation Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, as quoted in a Friday report by Moscow-based TASS news agency.

Russia’s space agency Roscosmos also criticized the move by the US military, describing it in a Thursday statement as the “latest case of unfair competition by Washington on the international market for space services.”

“The Pentagon wants to destroy what has been created with such difficulty,” it further added.

The development came as the US continues to rely on Russian Soyuz rockets — launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan — to reach the International Space Station.

The new rule will put Russia next to China, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria as countries that can’t provide “satellite services, such as… satellites and launch vehicles” to American firms.

The document further stated that the restrictions apply to launches carried out effective December 31, 2022.

‘Pentagon to immediately cease contracts with Russian firms’

Meanwhile, Pentagon spokesman Army Major Chris Mitchell announced that he anticipated that the US military would immediately avoid contracting Russian commercial satellite providers.

“This policy relates specifically to the Department of Defense, which is not responsible for the space station,” he added, directing other questions to NASA.

This is while space remains one of the few areas in which Moscow and Washington still cooperate despite deteriorating ties in recent years to post-Cold War lows amid rising tensions over variety of issues, including the Ukraine crisis and allegations of Russian meddling in US elections.

The US remains heavily dependent on Russian rocket engines to lift satellites. It also increasingly uses Russia’s in-space propulsion system to place satellites in their orbit.

The in-space propulsion system allows satellites to maintain the right position and attitude so that they can do their assigned tasks. It also allows satellites while destined for “geostationary” orbits to transfer from their initial elliptical arcs to circular orbits so they can remain above specific locations on the Earth’s surface.

According to a 2018 report by Forbes, Russia remains “the key offshore provider” of electric propulsion systems to American firms.