NASA: No further Artemis Moon landings for at least two years after first in 2025

The tortoise appears to be dying: NASA today announced that there will be a two-plus year pause of Artemis missions to the lunar surface after it completes its hoped-for first manned Moon landing in 2025.

In presentations at a two-day meeting of the NASA Advisory Council’s Human Exploration and Operations Committee Jan. 18 and 19, agency officials said the Artemis 4 mission, the first after the Artemis 3 mission lands astronauts on the moon, will not attempt a landing itself.

Instead, Artemis 4 will be devoted to assembly of the lunar Gateway. The mission will deliver the I-Hab habitat module, developed by the European Space Agency and the Japanese space agency JAXA, to the Gateway. It will be docked with the first Gateway elements, the Power and Propulsion Element and Habitation and Logistics Outpost, which will launch together on a Falcon Heavy in late 2024 and spend a year spiraling out to the near-rectilinear halo orbit around the moon.

Essentially, the Biden administration appears to be switching back to NASA’s original plans, to require use of the Lunar Gateway station for any future lunar exploration, thus delaying that exploration considerably. Do not expect any of this schedule to take place as promised. The 2025 lunar landing will be delayed, as will all subsequent SLS launches for Artemis. The rocket is simply too complicated and cumbersome to even maintain one launch per year, while inserting Gateway into the mix only slows down lunar exploration even more.

NASA officials also revealed that they are limiting their lunar landing Starship contract with SpaceX to only that single planned ’25 Moon mission. For future manned missions to the Moon the agency will request new bids from the entire industry.

NASA’s Human Landing System (HLS) Option A award to SpaceX last year covers only development of a lander and a single crewed flight on Artemis 3. NASA will acquire future landings through a separate effort, called Lunar Exploration Transportation Services (LETS). The goal of LETS is to select one, and possibly more, companies to provide “sustainable” landing services.

The timing of LETS — a draft request for proposals is scheduled for release this spring — means there will be a gap of a couple years before the first landing service acquired through that program would be ready. “It’ll be about two years from the Option A award to the LETS award before we’ll have this sustainable lander,” Kirasich said. “It’s a different lander with more aggressive requirements than Option A.”

It appears that Jeff Bezos’ political lobbying efforts have paid off, and that NASA is now reopening bidding so that his consortium, led by Blue Origin, can once again compete for that lunar lander contract. Whether the Bezos’ team will be able to propose anything comparable to Starship is however very questionable.

None of this really hurts SpaceX. Its contract with NASA helps them develop a Starship lunar lander. Then, while NASA twiddles its thumbs building Gateway, it will be free to fly its own lunar missions, selling tickets on the open market. I suspect that — should NASA succeed in landing humans in ’25 — the next American manned landing on the Moon will be a bunch of SpaceX customers, not that second Artemis mission sometime in the late 2020s.

SpaceX of course will also be able to bid on that second lunar landing competition. And it will be hard for NASA not to award Starship a further contract, even if others are competing against it. Starship will be operational. The others will merely be proposed.

Latvian/Bulgarian commercial partnership to launch cubesats to monitor space weather

Capitalism in space: Mission Space, a Latvian company, plans to build a constellation of 24 cubesats designed to monitor space weather and solar activity, using cubesats manufactured by the Bulgarian company EnduroSat.

Mission Space plans to make its software model of the near-Earth radiation environment available in mid-2022, before launching its Aurora-1 detectors with EnduroSat in the fourth quarter of the year.

Mission Space was founded in 2020 to offer space weather monitoring as a service. With data supplied by its constellation, Mission Space will provide data and analytics to government agencies in addition to establishing a cloud-based platform to help commercial satellite operators prepare for solar storms, assess risks and monitor radiation levels.

EndoroSat already has five satellites in orbit, with ten more planned for launch in the next two years.

I think that both these companies demonstrate that a modern satellite business truly can be started in someone’s garage. Because cubesats are so small and are also somewhat standardized, you don’t need a large facility to build them.

SpaceX’s Starship gets Air Force point-to-point cargo study contract

Capitalism in space: The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has signed a $102 million five year contract with SpaceX to study the practicality of using its Starship spacecraft as a method for transporting large cargo point-to-point on Earth.

[Program manager Greg] Spanjers said the SpaceX work is focused in four areas: collecting data from commercial orbital launches and landings; exploring cargo bay designs compatible with U.S. Transportation Command containers [TRANSCOM] and support rapid loading and unloading; researching landing systems that can operate on a variety of terrain; and demonstrating the heavy cargo launch and landing process.

The emphasis on landing options and interoperability with TRANSCOM containers and loading processes is an important element of the project, Spanjers noted, because the department’s vision for how the point-to-point capability could be used is broader than just the commercial business case. While companies are primarily interested in delivering cargo to and from established sites, the military wants to deliver supplies and humanitarian aid to locations that may not have spaceports.

This contract is in many ways similar to NASA’s manned Starship lunar lander contract. Both provide SpaceX some cash for developing a different version of Starship, even as the bulk of development money for building Starship comes from the private investment community.

NRO to buy radar data from private companies

Capitalism in space: The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) has signed contracts with five commercial companies to purchase the Earth radar data that they produce to see if that data will be useful for future reconnaissance and surveillance.

The National Reconnaissance Office announced Jan. 20 it has signed agreements with commercial radar imagery providers Airbus U.S., Capella Space, Iceye U.S., PredaSAR and Umbra.

These agreements are study contracts that give the NRO access to the data collected by these companies’ synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites, and are intended to help the agency better understand the quality of commercially available imagery. “We know that users across the national system for geospatial intelligence are eager to explore commercial radar, and these contracts will allow us to rapidly validate capabilities and the benefits to the national mission,” NRO Director Chris Scolese said in a statement.

Essentially, NRO is looking to see if it can fill some of its radar data needs from inexpensive privately built satellites, rather than build and launch its own very costly radar satellites. The agency is already doing the same with commercial optical data.

Debris from Russian anti-sat test just misses Chinese satellite

A Chinese satellite was almost destroyed on January 18th when a piece of debris from Russia’s November 15th anti-satellite test zipped past at a distance of less than a few hundred yards.

Expect more such events in the coming years.

This quote from the article I found somewhat ironic:

In an article from Beijing tabloid Global Times Jan. 20, cited experts stated that further close encounters cannot be ruled out. “Currently, they keep a safe distance but the chance for these two getting close in the future cannot be excluded,” said space debris expert Liu Jing.

Aerospace commentator Huang Zhicheng, told the publication that the growing issue of space debris should be addressed, including through international legal mechanisms. “It is not only necessary to conduct research on experimental devices or spacecraft to remove space debris, but also to formulate corresponding international laws and regulations on the generation of space debris under the framework of the UN,” Huang said. [emphasis mine]

Since anything published in the Chinese press must be approved by the Chinese government, this statement is essentially what the Chinese government wants said. For China however to demand other nations obey international law and not create more space junk that threatens others is hilarious, considering that China this year will likely launch two rockets whose core stages will crash to Earth uncontrolled, in direct violation of the Outer Space Treaty that China is a signatory to.

Since China doesn’t obey the treaties it signs, why should it expect others to do the same?

Contact restored with InSight after dust storm

The InSight science team has regained communications with the lander on Mars following a dust storm that caused it to shut down all operations entirely.

Though the tweet from the science team says the space craft is out of safe mode, that really doesn’t appear to be the case. Safe mode is a condition where a robot ceases all science operations, hunkers down, and awaits further orders. All that has happened here is that the engineers have regained contact after communications were lost on January 7th. No science is being done.

The resumption of communications is excellent news, however. They must now access how much power the lander’s solar panels are generating to see if they can turn InSight’s main instrument, its seismometer, back on. Those panels might be badly covered with dust, preventing operations.

Judge clears way for land acquisition for Georgia spaceport

The judge overseeing the lawsuit against the Georgia spaceport that Camden County officials wish to build has ruled that the county can proceed with its deal to purchase land, denying the request to delay it.

It seemed the judge ruled on very technical legal grounds, related to the late date the opponents filed their request.

The spaceport’s future still remains somewhat in limbo, even if the land is purchased. A petition to hold a referendum pro or con, still being checked for the accuracy of its signatures, would require a special county election which the voters would decide.

Axiom & UK entertainment company propose film studio in space

Film studio balloon

Capitalism in space: Axiom has signed a deal with British-based entertainment company, Space Entertainment Enterprise (SEE) to add an inflatable film studio module to its private commercial space station.

Axiom Space’s modules are to be added to the ISS throughout the second half of the 2020s. SEE-1 would be added along with these components.

Once the ISS program is near its end, the plan is for the commercial segment to be detached to form an independent station.

According to SEE, the spherical studio module is planned to be about 20 feet (6 meters) in diameter once fully expanded in space. Its interior is expected to provide an “unobstructed pressurized volume” that can be adapted for a range of media activities, including film production, music, sports and livestreaming events.

The graphics that accompanied the press release of the British company make me very skeptical of it. Posted on the right, it shows this inflatable module as a simple sphere, like a balloon. No manned module ever built, including the inflatable modules launched by Bigelow, has ever looked anything like this. This suggests a certain level of ignorance from the entertainment company which also suggests this project really doesn’t yet exist. The press release and agreement with Axiom seems instead merely an effort to drum up investment capital from investors who know even less.

Gehrels/Swift space telescope enters safe mode

The Neil Gehrels Swift observatory ceased science observations and entered safe mode on January 18, 2021, when one of its six reaction wheels experienced a failure.

It appears the other five reaction wheels, which function as gyroscopes to point the telescope accurately, are working properly. If engineers can’t recover the lost wheel, the telescope will still be able to operate with no problems.

Swift was launch seventeen years ago in order to solve the mystery of gamma ray bursts, which it did most successful. The man who most made the observatory possible, its principal scientist, Neil Gehrels, passed away in 2017, and to honor his memory the telescope was then named after him.

Freaky badlands on Mars

Freaky badlands on Mars
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, rotated and cropped to post here, was taken on November 18, 2021 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). Labeled merely as “Danielson Crater Outcrops,” it shows us a perfect example of the strangeness and sometimes very forbidding terrain of Mars.

We are looking at the outcrop tops of many tilted layers, worn into curves semicircles with the convex side all pointing to the southwest. In the hollowed concave-side, dust and sand have accumulated and been trapped, sometimes forming small ripple dunes when there is enough space for the wind to get inside, as seen in the picture’s lower right.

Danielson Crater is 41 miles in diameter. The overview map below provides the context.
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NATO issues new space policy filled with blather

NATO on January 17th published a new space policy document that with a great deal of bureaucratic blather essentially says that space is important, NATO’s enemies threaten those assets, and NATO recognizes these facts.

You can read the full document here.

This is obviously a policy document so we should not expect it to lay out proposed or planned operational projects. At the same time, it is so filled with generalizations it really says very little. In a sense, the blather is designed to hide how little it says, besides the very obvious or the most common sense goals, such as for example making sure the equipment of all of NATO’s partners is compatible with each other. To give you a flavor, here is one quote:

NATO will identify and, if necessary, develop appropriate mechanisms, based on voluntary participation, to fulfil and sustain requirements for space support in NATO operations, missions and other activities in the above functional areas. Allies’ capabilities, and, if necessary, trusted commercial service providers, should be leveraged to meet these requirements in the most secure, efficient, effective and transparent manner.

In plain English, NATO wants the cooperation of both private and government space entities to make sure it can function fully in space. As I said, stating the obvious.

The language actually tells us more about the foggy and inefficient thinking among DC and Pentagon bureaucrats. They can’t write clearly because they really don’t think clearly.

Still, the policy outlined essentially commits NATO to support a thriving infrastructure in space, from both the private and governmental sectors. The policy’s strong apparent support for “voluntary” private space is especially encouraging.

The policy’s position against aggressive actions by others, such as Russia and China, is also somewhat encouraging, though its expression in such mealy-mouth language suggests a fundamental lack of commitment that could be worrisome. Russia’s response to this new policy statement was not so vaguely put:

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova took NATO to task over its space policy paper at a briefing on Thursday, branding it as slanted and incendiary. According to her, the document entitled NATO’s Overarching Space Policy, which was published on January 17, covers the Western-led bloc’s priorities in space. “The document is one-sided and in fact incendiary as it is based on destructive beliefs of the US-led NATO members who have an important role in space,” Zakharova emphasized.

I suspect, based on Zakharova’s comments, that Russia has determined from the new policy statement that NATO’s policy is weak, and that Russia can therefore continue to push the envelope against it and the western powers, just to find out exactly how much it can get away with.

Yutu-2 scientists find soil “cloddy” during its journey

Chinese scientists today published a paper describing results from Yutu-2’s two year journey on the far side of the Moon, with the most interesting discovery being that the soil is “cloddy” there.

They found that the bearing property of the regolith is similar to that of dry sand and sandy loam on Earth, stronger than the typical lunar soil of Apollo missions.

But they estimated, based on the cloddy soil observed in Yutu-2’s wheels, that the soil there is stickier than the landing site of its predecessor Chang’e-3 which soft-landed on the moon’s Bay of Rainbows in Dec. 2013, according to the study.

The researchers attributed the increased soil cohesion to the higher percentage of agglutinates in the regolith, which make the soil particles more likely to hold together when ground by the wheels.

Since the blocky soil has adhered onto the rover’s wheel lugs instead of its meshed surface, they suggested that the lug’s surface could be coated with a special anti-adhesion material in future missions to improve the machine’s ability of traction.

The rover also traveled by the number of small and relatively fresh secondary craters.

Yutu-2 continues to operate. It is at present in hibernation during the lunar night, and will resume operations when the Sun comes up in about a week or so.

Radian raises $27.5 million to develop single-stage-to-orbit spaceplane

Capitalism in space: The startup Radian Aerospace announced yesterday that it has raised $27.5 million in private investment capital to fund the development of a single-stage-to-orbit spaceplane it dubs Radian One.

Radian has disclosed few technical details about the Radian One design. The seed round “essentially helps us transition more robustly into the hardware development phase,” Holder said. The company’s work to date has focused on the conceptual design and a few key technologies, such as test-firing “critical elements” of the vehicle’s main propulsion system.

The company said it has launch service agreements for Radian One with commercial space station developers, in-space manufacturers, satellite, and cargo companies, as well as agreements with the U.S. government and selected foreign governments. It did not identify specific customers, value of any such agreements or schedules for delivering those launch services.

Company officials seem confident they can do this. Their chief technology officer worked on the failed 1990s single-stage-to-orbit X-33 project, and is convinced the advances in technology since now make such a spaceplane possible.

We shall see. Radian faces stiff competition, as it is one of more than a hundred new orbital rocket companies. Its advantage, if successful, is its completely reusable airplane-like design.

SpaceX now blocked from Pakistan; OneWeb signs deal to operate in India

Capitalism in space: Two stories this morning suggest that the competition between the internet satellite constellations Starlink and OneWeb is being partly influenced by local politics, with the influence favoring OneWeb and hindering SpaceX.

First, Pakistan ordered SpaceX to stop taking preorders from its citizens for its Starlink system.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) said in a Jan. 19 news release that “Starlink has neither applied for nor obtained any license from PTA to operate and provide internet services” in the country. The telecoms regulator advised the general public to refrain from pre-booking the service in Pakistan through Starlink or associated websites.

This order follows a similar decree in India. Like India, SpaceX had apparently not been granted a license or permit to take preorders. SpaceX has now been blocked entirely from the subcontinent by the governments of both countries.

Second, OneWeb and Hughes announced a partnership agreement to distribute its internet service in India.

In the statement, OneWeb’s CEO Neil Masterson said the company would partner with Hughes to “offer high-speed, low-latency satellite broadband solutions and contribute to the Digital India vision”. OneWeb’s constellation, he said, would cover the length and breadth of India, from Ladakh to Kanyakumari and from Gujarat to the Northeast and bring secure solutions to enterprises, governments, telcos, airline companies and maritime customers. “OneWeb will invest in setting up enabling infrastructure such as Gateways and PoPs in India to light up the services,” he added.

According to the announcement, OneWeb intends to start offering its service this year.

OneWeb is half-owned by the Indian-based Bharti group. It seems that this connection with India has greased the bureaucratic wheels in that country for OneWeb, allowing it begin offering its services there. It also appears that this same connection with India is likely one reason both India and Pakistan have put a break on SpaceX’s operations.

Flight dates for SpaceX’s next two manned flights to ISS revised

Capitalism in space: A NASA official yesterday announced that the flight dates for SpaceX’s next two manned flights have been firmed up, with the private commercial Axiom AX-1 flight delayed from February 21st to March 31st, followed two weeks later by NASA’s own manned mission on April 15th.

Axiom has also noted that this commercial flight, piloted by a former NASA astronaut and carrying three passengers, will be its only commercial manned flight in ’22.

…Commanded by former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, Ax-1 will only carry private citizens. Each paying $55 million for the privilege, the mission’s three customers are Larry Connor, Mark Pathy, and Eytan Stibbe – all businessmen who’ve respectively amassed multmillion-dollar fortunes in real estate; entertainment and shipping; and military equipment and venture capitalism.

Their Dragon spacecraft will be Resilience, making its third flight.

Axiom’s next private commercial flight has now been delayed until ’23.

Upper stage of ABL rocket explodes during ground test

Capitalism in space: During a ground test of the upper stage of ABL Space Systems RS1 rocket an “anomaly” occurred that caused an explosion, apparently destroying the stage.

No one was hurt, but the company has released few details about what happened. We do not know if the explosion occurred during an engine static fire test, or during a pressure test of the stage’s tanks.

The company’s first launch was in October supposed to happen in December, then was shifted to January. This incident will certainly delay it further.

Ingenuity’s 19th flight delayed due to Martian weather

Because of the early arrival of the fall dust storm season, the Ingenuity engineering team decided to delay the helicopter’s 19th flight on January 5th, rescheduling it to no earlier than January 23rd.

In the days following the flight delay, the dust storm moved over Jezero crater, and we were able to clearly see its effects in both MEDA data and from orbit (Figure 1). Most notable was a sharp drop in air density – about a 7% deviation below what was observed pre-dust storm. This observed decrease would have put density below the lower threshold of safe flight and would have imparted undue risk to the spacecraft. We also observed the effect of dust in the amount of sunlight absorbed by Ingenuity’s solar array, which fell well below normal “clear sky” levels, a drop of about 18%.

Apparently the storm has now dissipated, allowing the new flight date.

Though this flight postponement occurred two weeks ago, today’s update appears to be the first public announcement, which has been typical of the Ingenuity team. They generally announce planned flights just before take-off, but then provide no detailed update on what happened, sometimes for weeks.

Freedom is under siege, and the besiegers have now told us they have no mercy

Liberty under siege
Liberty under siege.

For many years I deeply and sincerely believed that many rank-and-file Democrat voters honestly did not know how corrupt and power-hungry the political leaders of their party had become. I thought that if I could simply get them to see the clear evidence of misbehavior and abuse of power that has been going on in the Democratic Party without check since Bill Clinton was president, they would reconsider their voting habits and abandon their support of that party.

I thought that the vast majority of Democrats were decent people who opposed oppression and intolerance and simply were unaware that they were voting for it when they supported the Democratic Party.

I now know unequivocally that I was wrong. Two stories in the past week illustrate bluntly that a large number of ordinary Democrats, maybe even a majority, are eager supporters of oppression and intolerance and dictatorship. They like the corruption and abuse-of-power coming from Democratic Party politicians. They even want more of it.
» Read more

Debris apparently cleared from Perseverance’s sample carousel

Mosaic showing the clearing of debris
Click here and here for original images.

Two images taken by one of Perseverance’s cameras and downloaded today appear to show that the bits of debris from the rover’s most recent core sample that had fallen into the sample storage carousel have been dislodged and are now gone.

Those images are above, placed side by side. They were taken a little over an hour apart on January 18, 2022, probably before and after the rover completed two short rotations of the carousel, as planned.

The first image on the left, taken at 12:12:47 local solar time, shows the two small pieces sitting near the bottom inside of the sample storage holder. The second image on the right, taken at 13:20:40 local solar time, shows both pieces gone. There also appears to be less small rubble on the small platform just below this point.

The science team will next take pictures of the ground below, comparing those with pictures taken before the rotations, to see if they can spot this debris and confirm it is completely clear of the rover.

If the debris is gone, as these images suggest, Perseverance will be able to drill another core sample at this location and store it as planned. Expect an announcement by tomorrow or the next day providing more details of this success.

NASA: Russian anti-satellite test in November doubled the threat to ISS

According to a presentation by a NASA official at a conference today, further tracking of the debris from the Russian anti-satellite test on November 15, 2021 suggests that it has doubled the overall chance of a debris collision with ISS.

NASA ISS Program Director Robyn Gatens told a NASA advisory committee today that the November 15, 2021 Russian ASAT test forced the Expedition 66 crew to implement safe haven procedures, closing hatches to parts of the ISS and sheltering in the Soyuz and Crew Dragon spacecraft that could return them to Earth if worse came to worse.

Russia denied the test imperiled the crew, but Gatens said the threat of a piece of debris penetrating the ISS now has doubled to one chance in 25,000-33,000 orbits, versus one in 50,000 orbits prior to the test. The ISS does about 6,000 orbits a year.

It should be noted that, according to these numbers, the overall threat seems quite manageable. Nonetheless, the Russian anti-sat test was entirely irresponsible, especially because it targeted a defunct satellite in an orbit slightly higher than ISS, which means its debris will over time move into ISS’s orbit. The test also violated the Outer Space Treaty, which Russia has signed, which requires all signatories to control what they do in space so that it does not threaten either the persons or property of anyone else.

Chinese pseudo-company preparing first launch of methane-fueled rocket

The Chinese pseudo-private company, Landspace, is apparently prepping its new launchpad and Zhuque-2 rocket for launch in one of China’s interior spaceports.

Satellite imagery and deleted social media postings indicate that work is progressing on a new complex for facilitating methane-liquid oxygen launch vehicles at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China. Timelapse and high resolution satellite imagery show the development near the national Jiuquan center in the Gobi Desert and suggest the presence of a Zhuque-2 test article. A recent, now-deleted article indicates a new flame trench has been completed at Jiuquan.

The article at the link also cites statements by the company’s CEO in November, where he claimed they would launch in the first quarter of ’22. If successful, it would be the first orbital launch of a methane-fueled rocket, beating out both SpaceX’s Starship and Blue Origin’s New Glenn.

The article also says that the company is working on making the first stage reusable, which makes sense in that it will launch from inside China and that first stage if expendable will crash uncontrolled on Chinese territory. A second Chinese pseudo-company, iSpace, also claims it will begin hop tests of its own reusable rocket later this year.

For new readers: I call these companies pseudo because they really are not independent entities, as private companies are in the west. China’s government since 2014 has allowed private investors to create these companies and for the companies to compete against each other for government business, but none of them do anything without the full supervision of the Chinese government. Most have completed their first launches using solid rockets, technology almost always reserved for military use. None could have done so without that government permission and control.

The strategy here of China’s government is nonetheless smart, as the policy is creating competition and thus some innovation within its aerospace industry. The top-down control however will likely prevent these companies from doing anything truly different. Instead, they are apparently latching onto the new ideas, such as methane-fueled rockets and vertically landing first stages, that they have seen demonstrated by the truly independent private companies in the west.

Israel approves Artemis Accords

The Israeli government has apparently agreed to sign the American-led Artemis Accords, making it the fifteenth nation to do so.

While Israel’s foreign ministry has not released an official statement on the issue, local media reports said a signing ceremony involving NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and Israel Space Agency Director-General Uri Oron is expected the week of Jan. 23. ISA will host the 17th Ramon International Space Conference on Jan. 25 as part of Israel’s Space Week.

Once Israel officially signs, the full list of signatures will be as follows: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Israel, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, South Korea, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, and the United States.

Since the accords are designed to encourage private enterprise and private property rights in space, both Russia and China oppose them. The lack of both France and Germany to sign at this point suggests the politicians presently in charge of those capitalist countries are reconsidering their commitment to free enterprise.

Russian astronauts locate another leak on Zvezda

According to Russia’s state-run TASS press, Russian astronauts have located what it calls “the last air leak” on the Zvezda module of ISS.

Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov discovered the last air leak location in the International Space Station’s Zvezda module, Roscosmos spokesman Dmitry Strugovets said Tuesday, adding that the leak will be eliminated after special equipment is delivered to the station.

Like most of the other leaks previously found, this one was located in the aft transition chamber where the Zvezda docking port is located, once again suggesting that these leaks are the result of stress fractures caused by age and the more than a hundred dockings that have occurred there since Zvezda was launched more than twenty years ago.

The Russians’ belief that no more leaks will be found is probably based on their decision to reduce, even cease the use of this port. The new Prichal docking hub, which two Russians today are doing a spacewalk to finalize its integration with the station, makes the shuttering of Zvezda’s port possible.

At the same time, the existence of numerous stress fractures in an ISS module is not something to be dismissed lightly, as the TASS article attempts to do. It is akin to cracks in the hull of a submarine, and I don’t know anyone who would be willing to send such a vessel deep underwater.

Boeing and NASA still aiming for a May launch of unmanned Starliner test demo

Capitalism in space: Boeing and NASA are still targeting a May launch of Starliner’s unmanned test demo flight to ISS, delayed since August because of a valve issue in the service module.

Though they think they have identified and fixed that sticky valve problem, they have also decided to replace the service module for the demo flight, using the module originally planned for the first manned flight that will follow.

SpaceX launches another 49 Starlink satellites

Capitalism in space: SpaceX tonight used its Falcon 9 rocket to launch 49 Starlink satellites into orbit.

The first stage successfully landed on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean, completing its 10th flight. SpaceX now has three four first stages that have completed at least ten flights. (The correction comes from a comment by one of my readers below.)

The 2022 launch race:

3 SpaceX
1 Virgin Orbit
1 China

1 2 3 4 5 6