Russia blocks future rocket engine sales to U.S.

Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos, today announced that Russia will no longer sell any rocket engines to U.S. companies.

The head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, announced the new policy in an interview with the Russia 24 TV channel. “Today we have made a decision to halt the deliveries of rocket engines produced by NPO Energomash to the United States,” Rogozin said in the interview, according to Russia’s state press site Tass. “Let me remind you that these deliveries had been quite intensive somewhere since the mid-1990s.” Rogozin also added: “Let them fly on something else, their broomsticks, I don’t know what,” according to Reuters.

Russian engines are used on two American rockets, ULA’s Atlas-5 and Northrop Grumman’s Antares. The Atlas-4 however is being phased out, and has already received all the engines it needs for all of that rocket’s remaining flights. ULA plans to replace it with its new Vulcan rocket, using Blue Origin’s (long delayed) BE-4 engine.

Antares however is a more serious issue. Northrop Grumman uses this rocket to launch Cygnus freighters to ISS. It depends on two Russian engines for its Ukrainian-built first stage. The Ukraine War now probably makes building more Antares rockets impossible, which means at some point Northrop Grumman will no longer be able to supply ISS with cargo using Cygnus. Furthermore, NASA’s plan to use Cygnus’ engines to maintain ISS’s orbit will be impacted if Cygnus launches to ISS cease.

There is an option, though it too has issues. ULA has already launched one Cygnus to ISS using its Atlas-5. Though this rocket is going away, ULA could probably use its Vulcan instead — assuming Blue Origin finally gets the BE-4 engine operational so that Vulcan can finally launch.

Overall, Russia’s decision might cause a temporary blip in the American space effort, but if the government doesn’t get in the way I think that competition will force a solution. As Aesop said, necessity is the mother of invention.

Northrop Grumman launches Cygnus freighter to ISS

Capitalism in space: Northrop Grummann yesterday used its Antares rocket to successfully launch its Cygnus freighter to ISS.

This fact about this Cygnus is important:

This is the first Cygnus mission featuring enhanced capabilities to perform a re-boost to the space station’s orbit as a standard service for NASA; one re-boost is planned while Cygnus is connected to the orbiting laboratory.

In other words, Cygnus has been enabled to replace the boost capability that the Russians and Japanese provided.

The 2022 launch race:

6 SpaceX
2 China
2 Russia
1 Virgin Orbit
1 ULA
1 India
1 Europe (Arianespace)
1 Northrop Grumman

NASA awards contracts to three private space station projects

Capitalism in space: NASA today announced development contract awards to three different private space station projects.

  • Nanoracks Starlab concept won $160 million. Partners include Voyager Space and Lockheed Martin.
  • Blue Origin’s Orbital Reef project was awarded $130 million, partnering with Sierra Space, Boeing, and Redwire.
  • Northrop Grumman won $125.6 million on a concept based on upgrades to its Cygnus freighter.

All three contracts are Space Act agreements, designed by NASA to jumpstart the companies and their design efforts. All three are in addition to the effort by Axiom to build its own ISS modules that will eventually detach to form its own independent station.

That’s four private American space stations now in the works. All are aiming to launch before this decade is out.

Antares rocket successfully launches Cygnus freighter to ISS

Capitalism in space: Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket today successfully launched a Cygnus cargo capsule to ISS.

This was the fourth launch this year for Northrop Grumman’s launch division, which was once the company Orbital ATK. It was also the most in a single year for that division since it launched five times in 2013.

26 China
20 SpaceX
12 Russia
4 Northrop Grumman

The U.S. now leads China 31 to 26 in the national rankings.

Cygnus freighter arrives at ISS

Capitalism in space: Northrop Grumann’s Cygnus freighter yesterday arrived at ISS, bringing with it four tons of supplies plus a new toilet.

The unpiloted cargo ship was loaded with four tons of supplies and equipment, including crew food and clothing, experiment hardware and material, the virtual reality camera, the new toilet and even samples of Estée Lauder skin cream that will be used in a commercial photo shoot for the company’s social media platforms.

The $23 million toilet, or “universal waste management system,” is smaller and more sophisticated than the station’s current potty and includes modifications to make it easier for female astronauts to use.

Next up for ISS are two manned missions later this month, first a Soyuz bringing a crew of three, followed by the second SpaceX Dragon manned mission, bringing a crew of four. In between the present crew of three will return to Earth.

Antares launches; Falcon 9 aborts

Of the two launches scheduled for tonight, Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket was the only one to launch, lifting off on schedule at 9:16 pm (Eastern). This was the company’s third launch this year.

SpaceX’s launch however aborted at T-2 seconds. No word on why the rocket’s computer’s shut down, or when they will reschedule.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race remain unchanged:

25 China
15 SpaceX
10 Russia
4 ULA
4 Europe (Arianespace)

The Antares launch however puts the U.S. back into a tie with China, 25-25, in the national rankings.

Two launches scheduled for tonight, 27 minutes apart

The numerous launch scrubs this past week has created an unprecedented situation tonight, two orbital launches scheduled only 27 minutes apart from two different East Coast spaceports.

First Northrop Grumman will try again to launch its Cygnus cargo freighter to ISS from Wallops Island, Virginia, with the launch scheduled for 9:12 pm (Eastern). The first launch attempt last night was aborted 2:21 seconds before liftoff “after receiving off-nominal data from ground support equipment.”

Second, SpaceX will try to launch two Air Force GPS satellites from Cape Canaveral, Florida, with the launch scheduled for 9:43 pm (Eastern). This launch has been delayed several times because of the repeated launch scrubs of ULA’s Delta 4 Heavy rocket, attempting to launch a military reconnaissance satellite. ULA’s launch had priority for the range, but with it delayed due to the investigation over the T-7 second launch abort on September 30th, the SpaceX’s GPS launch moves up in line.

The first will be live streamed on NASA TV, the second by SpaceX. I have embedded the live streams for both below the fold.
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Cygnus launch scrubbed less than 3 minutes from launch

The scrubs keep coming! Northrop Grumman’s launch team tonight scrubbed the launch of its Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo freighter at T-2:21 minutes.

It appears, listening to the countdown, that the abort came from the engineers monitoring the propellants on the first stage, but this remains preliminary. More information is needed. (Update: It appears the issue was related to ground support equipment, not the rocket itself.)

They can recycle and launch tomorrow from Wallops Island, but this is also not confirmed. SpaceX also wishes to launch at almost the exact same time tomorrow from Cape Canaveral, and I am not sure both launches can occur simultaneously.

China and Russia launch a bunch of satellites

Russia today used its Soyuz-2 rocket to launch three communication satellites plus 19 commercial smallsats.

This was the first time Russia used the Soyuz-2 for these particular small communications satellites, as previously they had been launched by a variety of smaller rockets.

China in turn today used its Long March 4B to place two Earth resource satellites into orbit.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

25 China
15 SpaceX
10 Russia
4 ULA
4 Europe (Arianespace)

China has moved ahead of the U.S. 25 to 24 in the national rankings.

These numbers should change again in the next few days. The U.S. has had a number of scrubs and launch delays in the past few days. ULA has been repeatedly pushing back the previously delayed launch of a National Security Agency reconnaissance satellite due to a variety of problems related to its Delta 4 Heavy rocket. The launch is now set for just after midnight tonight (Monday night). [UPDATE: Launch scrubbed due to lightning and poor weather. Tentatively rescheduled for 11:58 pm (Eastern) on September 29.]

SpaceX meanwhile had to scrub a launch this morning (September 28) of another 60 Starlink satellites due to weather. No new launch date has yet been announced.

Northrop Grumman also has had to scrub tomorrow’s Antares launch of a Cygnus cargo freighter because of poor weather at Wallops Island. It is now set for the evening of October 1st.

SpaceX also has a scheduled launch tomorrow morning of a GPS satellite on its Falcon 9 rocket. This is also threatened by weather. There is also no word whether the ULA launch scrub will cause this launch to be delayed.

Successful launch today of Cygnus freighter to ISS

Capitalism in space: Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket today successfully launched it Cygnus unmanned cargo capsule on a supply mission to ISS.

This was Northrop Grumman’s first flight in 2020. The standings in the 2020 launch race:

3 China
2 SpaceX
1 Arianespace (Europe)
1 Rocket Lab
1 Russia
1 Japan
1 ULA
1 Northrop Grumman

The U.S. now leads China 5 to 3 in the national rankings. The U.S. will likely add to that lead with the planned SpaceX launch of another 60 Starlink satellites Monday.

Cygnus successfully launched by Antares

Capitalism in space: Northrop Grumman today successfully launched its Cygnus unmanned cargo freighter to ISS, using its Antares rocket.

This was only the third launch for Northrop Grumman this year, which matches its total last year and has been its typical count for the past decade and a half. Previously that number was mostly Pegasus launches. Now it is the Antares/Cygnus launches to ISS, as Pegasus has lost most of its business.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

20 China
17 Russia
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)
4 ULA
4 India

The U.S. now leads China 22 to 20 in the national rankings.

Cygnus undocks from ISS, will remain in orbit for five more months

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus cargo capsule has undocked from ISS, but will remain in orbit until December.

First, the capsule, dubbed the S.S. Roger Chaffee, will deploy a bunch of cubesats and nanosats. Then,

Northrop Grumman plans several months of long-duration spaceflight experiments using the Cygnus spacecraft after release of the CubeSats. Four miniaturized control moment gyroscopes are flying on the cargo freighter for the first time, and engineers will assess their performance in controlling the spacecraft’s pointing without consuming rocket fuel.

Ground teams also want to evaluate how the Cygnus spacecraft’s avionics function on a long-duration mission, and Northrop Grumman plans to demonstrate dual Cygnus operations for the first time after the launch of the company’s next resupply mission — NG-12 — in October.

Northrop Grumman has gotten a NASA contract to use Cygnus as the basis for the habitable module of NASA’s Lunar Gateway project, and this extended flight is a way to test the engineering for that module now during operations.

Though I continue to have many doubts about Gateway, I laud Northrop Grumman for this approach. It speeds things up and saves money.

Northrop Grumman to build Gateway habitation module

The boondoggle never dies! NASA has decided it will give a sole source contract to Northrop Grumman to build the minimal habitation module of its Gateway lunar space station, based on that company’s Cygnus unmanned freighter.

NASA is also bypassing a traditional procurement process for the Minimal Habitation Module. Rather than requesting bids from industry, and then evaluating the responses, NASA plans to fast-track a contract with Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, an operating unit of Northrop Grumman formerly known as Orbital ATK.

The pressurized habitation compartment will be docked with the Gateway’s Power and Propulsion Element in a stable near-rectilinear halo orbit around the moon. NASA announced in May that Maxar Technologies won a contract worth up to $375 million to build the Power and Propulsion Element, which will provide electricity and maneuvering capability for the Gateway station using high-power plasma thrusters, but does not include any pressurized section.

The Gateway is a mini-space station NASA plans to build in an orbit that swings as close as 2,000 miles from the moon about once per week. The Gateway will act as a stopover and safe haven for astronauts heading for the moon’s surface, NASA is designing the mini-station to accommodate myriad scientific experiments and engineering demonstrations required for more ambitious ventures deeper into the solar system, and eventually Mars.

The Trump administration wants to focus on a lunar landing by 2024, and so it forced NASA to reduce its Gateway boondoggle to the minimum necessary to make that lunar landing possible. This module, with the service module that Maxar is building, is that minimum Gateway.

And why do we even need this? Well, it appears that SLS and Orion and the not-yet-built or even designed lunar lander, by themselves, are not capable of getting astronauts to the Moon. A way station is somehow required.

Note also that the contract amount remains a secret, redacted from the NASA paperwork. Note also that NASA “still plans to add more elements to the Gateway, including contributions from international partners, after accomplishing the human landing on the moon.”

In other words, this is a typical Washington swamp buy-in, connived by the big space contractors and NASA to weasel this boondoggle into existence, even though the Trump administration is not interested. By keeping the cost secret at this point, they avoid some bad press and the possibility of political opposition. Their plan is to get the minimal Gateway funded and launched into space, and then demand more money to pay for the whole thing once the project exists.

This is what NASA does routinely, for all its projects. It lies about the initial cost, low balling it, so as to get the politicians to buy in. The result for the past two decades however is that NASA fails to build much of anything, while wasting gobs of taxpayer dollars on non-productive jobs here on Earth.

Do not be surprised if we see the same with Gateway. In fact, I would bet on it.

Antares launches Cygnus freighter to ISS

Capitalism in space: Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket today successfully launched a Cygnus freighter to ISS.

This was Northrop Grumman’s first launch in 2019. The company hopes to complete 4 launches this year.

Meanwhile the leaders in the 2019 launch race remain unchanged:

4 SpaceX
4 China
4 Europe (Arianespace)
3 Russia

The U.S. however has widened its lead in the national rankings, 8 to 4.

Antares rocket launches Cygnus freighter to ISS

Capitalism in space: Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket today successfully launched its Cygnus freighter to ISS.

This was only the second launch this year by the division of Northrop Grumman that used to be Orbital ATK. They have been trying to launch a research satellite using their Pegasus rocket, but have had engineering issues that keep delaying it.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race remain unchanged:

31 China
18 SpaceX
11 Russia
8 ULA
8 Europe (Arianespace)

China continues to lead the U.S. in the national rankings, 31 to 30. The U.S. total now exceeds last year, and is the most this century. We have now had 91 launches this year, the most since 2014. I expect that number to go up significantly, with a real chance it will pass 100 launches for the first time since 1990, just prior to the fall of the Soviet Union.

Cygnus fires engine to test reboost of ISS

The Cygnus freighter presently berthed to ISS yesterday did a successful test engine firing to see if it could raise the orbit of ISS.

The cargo resupply vehicle provided a reboost to the Station at 4:25 pm Eastern, with a short 50 second burn of its main engine on the aft of the vehicle, raising the Station’s altitude by 295 feet. This test will pave the way for future, longer burns, removing some of the orbital stationkeeping strain from the Russian assets.

This was the first time since the retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet in July 2011, a US spacecraft had performed a reboost of the ISS.

Northrop Grumman proposed the idea, considering it a way to enhance the value of Cygnus for future NASA contracts. It also appears that NASA is looking to see if the Dragon and Starliner capsule can do this. If so, it will free the U.S. from another dependency it presently has with Russia, who today has the only approved ability to raise the station’s orbit, using Progress and Soyuz capsules and sometimes the engine on its Zvezda module.

Atlas 5/Cygnus launch delayed until mid-April

ULA has delayed its next Atlas 5 launch to send a Cygnus cargo capsule to ISS until mid-April.

Gatens said NASA was now expecting the Cygnus to launch to the station no earlier than the middle of April. “The Orbital launch, the next launch, has slipped due to an investigation of a hydraulic leak in the booster engine compartment that’s in work,” she said. “There are some components being replaced. The investigation is going on and we’re currently targeting no earlier than, probably, a mid-April launch.”

ULA spokeswoman Jessica Rye said March 28 that a new launch date has not been set yet for the mission. “Additional information will be provided once testing to resolve the booster hydraulic issue is complete,” she said.

The launch was initially planned for mid-March. This delay has forced NASA to delay a spacewalk because it involves installing equipment that the Cygnus capsule is bringing to ISS.

Cygnus fire experiments a success

The fire experiments that were done on the Cygnus cargo freighter after it left ISS two weeks ago have been declared a success.

Saffire-II burned nine different samples, in an effort to gauge the flammability of various materials in a microgravity environment. These 12-by-2-inch (30 by 5 centimeters) samples included silicon of different thicknesses; a cotton-fiberglass blend; plexiglass; and Nomex, a commercially available material that’s used in spacecraft on cargo bags and as a fire barrier, NASA officials said. Everything went well during the experiment, they added: All nine samples burned as planned, and the Saffire-II team collected more than 100,000 images. All data had come back down to Earth by Friday (Nov. 25), at which point Saffire-II achieved “complete mission success,” NASA officials wrote in an update.

This was the second set of fire tests. There are plans for a third on a future Cygnus freighter.

Antares successfully launches Cygnus

After two years of redesign, Orbital ATK’s Antares rocket tonight successfully put a Cygnus cargo capsule into orbit.

Considering that every single one of the vehicles that fly to ISS (Soyuz, Dragon/Falcon 9, Cygnus/Antares, HTV) has been experiencing some issue that has delayed each of their launches, this success tonight must be a relief to managers and engineers in both Russia and the U.S.

Next comes a manned Soyuz launch on Wednesday.

Redesigned Antares launch scheduled for Oct 13

NASA and Orbital ATK have now set October 13 as the date for the first Antares launch in two years.

Though ISS is not short of supplies, this quote underlines the difficulty of the particular situation now.

While the space station has plenty of food, water, experiments and other provisions, NASA officials are eager for the Antares rocket to resume flights as all of the research outpost’s other servicing vehicles are facing delays.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which launches the company’s Dragon cargo craft, is grounded after a launch pad explosion Sept. 1, and Dragon resupply missions to the space station may not start up again until early next year.

The Japanese HTV cargo freighter was supposed to blast off Sept. 30 with several tons of supplies, including new lithium-ion batteries for the space station’s electrical system. But that launch has been delayed until at least December after Japanese engineers discovered a leak during an air tightness test in August.

And a Soyuz crew capsule that was supposed to launch Sept. 23 with three new space station residents will not lift off until at least Oct. 19 after Russian workers discovered a technical problem on the vehicle. The Soyuz delay will likely push back the launch of Russia’s next unpiloted Progress cargo freighter from Oct. 20 until late November or early December.

Even with numerous redundent methods for hauling cargo to ISS, it is still possible for them all to have problems all at once.

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