Axiom strikes tourist deal with SpaceX for three more flights

Capitalism in space: Axiom today announced that it had signed a deal with SpaceX to use its Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket to launch three more manned tourist missions following the first now scheduled for January.

Ax-1, Axiom’s historic first private ISS mission, has already been approved by NASA and targeted for launch to the ISS no earlier than Jan. 2022, also aboard Dragon as a result of a deal the companies signed in March 2020. Axiom last week revealed legendary astronaut Peggy Whitson and champion GT racer John Shoffner would serve as commander and pilot on its proposed Ax-2 mission – now confirmed to be a Dragon flight.

So, too, are Ax-3 and Ax-4.

Other than Whitson and Shoffner, the company has not revealed who will fly on those three additional flights. That it made this deal however strongly suggests that it has ample demand for seats and will fill those capsules with no problem.

The press release also reiterates the company’s space station plans. They will begin attaching their own modules to ISS in ’24, with the goal of detaching from the station in ’28 and operating as an independent entirely private station thereafter.

Axiom announces astronaut to command its second commercial manned flight

Capitalism in space: Axiom has announced that retired NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson will command its second commercial manned flight.

Whitson was the first woman to command the International Space Station and the oldest woman to fly in space (57, in 2017). She holds the U.S. record for most cumulative time in space (665 days) as well as the world record for most spacewalks by a woman (10).

Joining her will be 65-year-old John Shoffner, an airplane pilot and a champion car racer.

No word yet on when this flight will take place, but expect them to aim for next year, as soon as possible after Axiom’s first ISS commercial flight in January. Scheduling will also depend on NASA, which is presently working out an ISS scheduling policy to manage the increasing number of private missions being offered.

The flight will likely use a SpaceX Dragon capsule, which means there is room for two more passengers. It is possible that those seats will be filled with the winners of Discovery Channel’s proposed reality show, but they also might be filled by actor Tom Cruise and a movie director, both of whom have expressed interest in filming scenes of a movie on ISS.

NASA gives an American the seat on Dragon flight that it had been holding for Russian

NASA yesterday announced that it has added an American astronaut to the next manned mission to ISS, set for October.

NASA said that Kayla Barron will join the Crew-3 mission, launching on a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft scheduled for launch no earlier than Oct. 23. Barron joins NASA astronauts Raja Chari and Tom Marshburn, and European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer, who had been assigned to Crew-3 last December.

The Crew-3 mission will relieve the Crew-2 astronauts who arrived at the station on another Crew Dragon spacecraft April 24. The four Crew-3 astronauts will remain on the station for a six-month stay.

The space agency had been holding that seat open for a Russian, as part of its long term barter arrangement whereby in exchange for flying Americans on Soyuz capsules, Russia flies Russians on American spacecraft. That arrangement had been used repeatedly when the shuttle was flying, but since its retirement the U.S. has been forced to buy its seats on Soyuz as it had nothing to offer in exchange.

With the arrival of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule however NASA has been trying to get the Russians to renew that arrangement. And though an American, Mark Vande Hei, flew for free on a Soyuz last month, the Russians have as yet refused to assign their own astronaut to this upcoming October flight, despite months of negotiations. It appears NASA decided it could wait no longer, and filled the seat with its own astronaut.

In fact, the announcement by Roscosmos on May 13th that the next two Soyuz launches to ISS will carry two commercial passengers each means that Vande Hei cannot return on a Soyuz until next year. The seat he would have used to come home now must be used by these tourists, meaning his mission will now be extended to last for as much as a full year or more.

Unless of course NASA decides to bring him home on a Dragon capsule instead.

NASA and Axiom finalize contract for private tourism flight to ISS

Capitalism in space: NASA today announced that it has signed the order detailing the first commercial tourism flight to ISS by Axiom, set for no earlier than January ’22.

The spaceflight, designated as Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1), will launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and travel to the International Space Station. Once docked, the Axiom astronauts are scheduled to spend eight days aboard the orbiting laboratory. NASA and Axiom mission planners will coordinate in-orbit activities for the private astronauts to conduct in coordination with space station crew members and flight controllers on the ground.

Axiom will purchase services for the mission from NASA, such as crew supplies, cargo delivery to space, storage, and other in-orbit resources for daily use. NASA will purchase from Axiom the capability to return scientific samples that must be kept cold in transit back to Earth.

SpaceX will transport the four Axiom astronauts to and from ISS in a Dragon capsule, as yet undetermined.

According to yesterday’s Space News article, the contract for this flight had been signed prior to NASA establishing its new much higher prices for the use of ISS.

Resilience successfully splashes down in Gulf of Mexico

Resilience May 1, 2021 returning to Earth

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s Resilience capsule successfully splashed down tonight in Gulf of Mexico, returning four astronauts from a six month mission on ISS.

The infrared image to the right was taken from an airplane, just after the main parachutes deployed.

They are presently in the process of recovering the capsule and crew, which will take another hour or so. You can watch SpaceX’s live stream here.

Resilience’s next flight will be the first entirely commercial manned orbital flight, presently scheduled for September 15, 2021. Dubbed Inspiration4, it will carry four private passengers for a flight of two to four days. They will not dock with ISS, but instead orbit the Earth freely. SpaceX will also replace the docking port on Resilience with a domed cupola to provide the passengers more room and a great view during their flight.

SpaceX to attempt first night splashdown since Apollo 8 in 1968

Capitalism in space: Because of weather delays, SpaceX will now attempt the splashdown of Resilience carrying four astronauts from ISS in the predawn hours tomorrow, the first nighttime splashdown in more than a half century, since Apollo 8 in 1968.

Resilience will undock from ISS tonight at 8:35 pm (Eastern), and splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico at 2:57 am (Eastern).

This will also be only the third nighttime landing ever. Besides Apollo 8, which was planned, in 1976 Soyuz 23 failed to dock with the Soviet Union’s Salyut 5 station and came home after only two days in space. That unplanned landing also turned out to be the first and only manned splashdown ever in Russian history, as the capsule landed on frozen Lake Tengiz in Kazakhstan, breaking through the ice, during a blizzard. The two astronauts were safely recovered, though their return to Earth was far from pleasant.

Endeavour successfully launches four astronauts to ISS

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s Endeavour capsule early this morning successfully launched four astronauts to ISS,

Both Endeavour and the Falcon 9 first stage had flown once previously. The first stage landed successfully on the drone ship in the Atlantic.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

11 SpaceX
8 China
6 Russia
2 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 15 to 8 in the national rankings.

Weather delays next manned flight on Endeavour capsule one day

NASA and SpaceX have chosen to delay tomorrow’s second manned flight on SpaceX’s Endeavour capsule one day because of “unfavorable weather conditions forecast along the flight path for Thursday.”

The launch is now scheduled for 5:49 am (Eastern) on April 23rd. NASA of course will live stream it, though you will have to listen to a lot of pro-NASA propaganda, even though this flight is almost entirely run by SpaceX using a SpaceX rocket, a SpaceX capsule, and SpaceX launch and landing crews. NASA’s real involvement is as a very interested and involved customer during launch and recovery, and then in charge while the crew is docking or is on board ISS.

This will be the first time astronauts will fly on a reused SpaceX capsule. Endeavour was used for the first manned test flight last spring. That earlier flight also creates an interesting human interest side story on this flight. Of the four person crew, pilot Megan McArthur also happens to be the wife of Bob Behnken, who flew on Endeavour last year.

Resilience successfully moves from one ISS docking port to another

With four astronauts on board the Dragon capsule Resilience tonight successfully undocked from one docking port on ISS and redocked to a different port.

This was the first time an American spacecraft had accomplished this task. It was necessary to clear the docking port that the next Dragon capsule, Endeavour, will use to bring its crew to ISS, presently set for launch on April 22nd.

Russian astronauts have piloted Soyuz spacecraft between different ports numerous times, both on ISS and on Russia’s earlier space stations. Tonight’s transfer by Resilience however was done entirely on autopilot. The American astronauts could have taken over manually at any time, but the spacecraft did the entire maneuver on its own.

There is a certain irony in how the Russians have always done this maneuver, manually, and how Resilience did this, without any human intervention. From the 1960s through the entire space shuttle program Americans and all its astronauts strongly demanded that their spacecraft be piloted, by the humans on board, rather than being controlled by software or ground control. The Russians instead insisted, at least initially, that while their astronauts had the capability of doing all maneuvers manually, their software or mission control should run things. This difference seemed to nicely symbolize the down-up nature of America versus the top-down culture of Russia.

Things are now reversed. I wonder if that tells us anything about the two cultures today.

Last two passengers on 1st entirely private manned spaceflight revealed

Capitalism in space: The last two passengers for the first entirely private commercial manned spaceflight, dubbed Inspiration4 and paid for by businessman Jared Isaacman, were announced yesterday, along with a launch date no earlier than September 15, 2021.

Isaacman bought the mission partly to fly in space, but also to raise money for St. Judes Children’s Research Hospital. Both Isaacman and Haley Arceneaux, a former St. Judes cancer patient, will fly. Their two new crew members are both experienced in aviation or spaceflight operations, though neither is a professional astronaut with any training in that field.

[Sian] Proctor describes herself as a scientist turned artist and an “analog astronaut” where people live in environments to simulate long-duration spaceflight. She has done four analog missions including NASA’s Hawai’i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) Habitat to simulate a trip to Mars. She is a pilot, scuba diver, “and loves geoexploring our world.” Born in Guam while her father was working at a NASA tracking station there during the Apollo program, she has a B.S. in environmental science, an M.S. in geology, and a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction: Science Education. She was a finalist in NASA’s 2009 astronaut selection.

While a U.S. Space Camp counselor, [Chris] Sembroski conducted simulated space shuttle missions and supported STEM-based education. He served in the Air Force maintaining a fleet of Minuteman III ICBMs and served in Iraq. After leaving the Air Force in 2007, he earned a B.S. in Professional Aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He now works for the aerospace industry in Seattle, although he did not specify what company.

Their spacecraft will be Resilience, the Dragon capsule that flew the first operational manned commercial crew to ISS, and is presently docked to the station. For the Inspiration4 flight however SpaceX is going to install a large domed window at the capsule’s nose, replacing the docking port that will not be needed.

Axiom’s first passengers to ISS paying $55 million each

Capitalism in space: The three non-Axiom employees who will fly as part of the crew for the company’s first private manned mission to ISS are paying $55 million each for the privilege.

The first private space station crew was introduced Tuesday: Three men who are each paying $55 million to fly on a SpaceX rocket. They’ll be led by a former NASA astronaut now working for Axiom Space, the Houston company that arranged the trip for next January.

“This is the first private flight to the International Space Station. It’s never been done before,” said Axiom’s chief executive and president Mike Suffredini, a former space station program manager for NASA. While mission commander Michael Lopez-Alegria is well known in space circles, “the other three guys are just people who want to be able to go to space, and we’re providing that opportunity,” Suffredini told The Associated Press.

The first crew will spend eight days at the space station, and will take one or two days to get there aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule following liftoff from Cape Canaveral.

The initial press release made it appear that all four men were crew members and not passengers. And though Axiom and these passengers are both continuing to de-emphasize the tourist nature of their flight, claiming they will each be tasked with science research and that it “is 100% not a vacation for these guys,” the simple fact remains that they are paying customers, flying in space for the fun of it.

Why Axiom and these passengers feel obliged to misconstrue the tourist nature of their flight puzzles me. There is no reason for them to be ashamed of their desire to fly in space. Nor should they feel any guilt about having the money that allows them to pay for the privilege. This is what freedom is all about. They earned their wealth, and it now allows them the chance to do something grand. All power to them.

The actual ticket-price is also intriguing. At $55 million it is far more than the $35 million paid by the last tourist flown on a Russian Soyuz to ISS, though less than the $75 to $90 million the Russians were charging NASA. Overall it appears the price per ticket for an orbital flight has gone up, though the emerging competition is likely stabilizing the price at a lower plateau.

The announcement is also interesting in that so little is mentioned of SpaceX. Though the flight has been sold as an Axiom one, this particular tourist flight will depend entirely on SpaceX hardware to get to and from ISS. Axiom has merely acted as the broker for the flight.

Eventually Axiom will have its own in-space habitable space, first attached to ISS as new modules and later flying free as its own space station after ISS is retired. Right now however the real achievement is coming from SpaceX. This detail must be recognized.

Axiom names crew for its first private manned mission to ISS

Capitalism in space: The private company Axiom today revealed the names of the four-person crew that will fly a SpaceX Dragon capsule to ISS on the first wholly private manned spaceflight.

The four members of the Axiom Space Ax-1 crew: Michael Lopez-Alegria, former NASA astronaut, Axiom Space vice president and Ax-1 commander; Larry Connor, U.S. real estate entrepreneur and Ax-1 pilot; Mark Pathy, Canadian investor and philanthropist; and Eytan Stibbe, Israeli businessman and fighter pilot.

The crew of the first entirely-private orbital space mission will include the second oldest person to launch into space, the second Israeli in space, the 11th Canadian to fly into space and the first former NASA astronaut to return to the International Space Station, the company organizing the history-making flight has announced.

The launch date has also been delayed from the fall to early ’22.

It is unclear if these four men are the entire passenger list. Dragon can carry up to seven passagers, and earlier rumors had hinted that Tom Cruise and a movie director were buying two seats on this private mission in order to film scenes for a movie.

It is also unclear why the flight was delayed, other than a suggestion that it was due to scheduling conflicts with getting to ISS.

SpaceX in preliminary negotiations for another big fundraising round

Capitalism in space: According to this report, SpaceX is now in preliminary negotiations with investors prior to beginning another big fundraising round, even though the company just raised $1.9 billion in private investment capital in August.

The talks are still in early phases, and exact pricing for the fundraising round has not yet been determined, one of the people said. Terms could still change, and it could take several weeks to decide and firm up allocations, the person added. SpaceX also may not be able to convince investors to give it the lofty valuation it desires. Allocations refer to which investors will be authorized to buy shares and how much they will pay for those shares.

“It’s a pretty big shock to me, honestly,” one of the people said. “What company jumps to double its valuation in six months? I don’t care at what scale you’re operating, it’s kind of crazy,” they added. “If you look at the series, every single valuation is a 10 to 20% bump.”

It appears that the company is trying to leverage its successes with Dragon, Starship, and Starlink to obtain more funding. The story also suggests that SpaceX now has a better sense of what it will cost to get Starship built, and thus is looking to obtain those funds now, when they are in a good position to get them.

SpaceX successfully launches Dragon freighter to ISS

Falcon 9 launches Dragon freighter to ISS

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched for the first time its upgraded Dragon freighter to ISS.

The first stage was flying its fourth flight, and successfully landed on the drone ship in the ocean. This was also SpaceX’s 100th successful launch of its Falcon 9 rocket, with about two-thirds of those flights using a used first stage.

In the cargo was also the first privately built equipment airlock, built by Nanoracks for its use in launching private payloads. This will supplement the Japanese equipment airlock on its Kibo module, both used to move equipment (not people) in and out ISS. Dragon will dock with ISS tomorrow.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

32 China
23 SpaceX
13 Russia
5 ULA
5 Rocket Lab
5 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S. now leads China 36 to 32 in the national rankings.

NASA considering commercial communications satellites for Mars

Capitalism in space: NASA officials have revealed that they are considering hiring commercial communications companies to build and launch a communications network of satellites to support its Mars science missions.

In recent presentations to advisory committees, NASA officials have discussed the possibility of working with industry to place several satellites into orbit around Mars that would serve as relays for other missions, notably the proposed Mars Ice Mapper. Such satellites, they said, could greatly increase the amount of data missions can return to Earth and end reliance on aging science missions that also serve as data relays.

One proposal presented at those meetings features three satellites in equatorial orbits at altitudes of 6,000 kilometers. The satellites would be equipped with radio links for communicating with other spacecraft in orbit and on the surface as well as to and from Earth. The satellites may also include laser intersatellite links to allow them to communicate with each other.

Based on the number of missions ongoing and planned for Mars, the agency has recognized it needs to establish a dedicated system for communicating with those missions, rather than depending on the science orbiters they have in orbit. That they are looking to commercial companies to build this for them, with NASA acting merely as a customer, as an excellent sign that the agency has now completely accept this approach, as I recommended in Capitalism in Space, rather than acting as the big boss that controls everything.

The SpaceX fleet of Dragons

The first manned Dragon capsule on the launchpad
The first manned Dragon capsule, on the launchpad

Capitalism in space: During the post-launch press briefing after launch of its second manned Dragon mission on November 15, SpaceX CEO Gwynne Shotwell revealed the company’s plans to build and fly a fleet of Dragon cargo and crew capsules, and reuse them repeatedly over the coming years..

Specifically, Shotwell revealed that SpaceX intends to build three reusable Cargo Dragon 2 capsules, one of which is already completed and in Florida preparing for its December 2nd CRS-21 launch debut. On the crew side of things, SpaceX will build “three more” Crew Dragon capsules on top of the flight-proven Demo-2 and currently orbital Crew-1 capsules. It’s unclear if this means that the new Crew Dragon capsule flown on SpaceX’s January 2020 In-Flight Abort (IFA) test will be refurbished for additional flights.

Excluding IFA Crew Dragon capsule C205, SpaceX thus intends to operate a fleet of at least three Cargo Dragon 2 and five Crew Dragon capsules, representing eight reusable spacecraft each capable of at least five orbital missions.

She also hinted that the company has plans to fly its own missions, using these spacecraft, in addition to its contracted flights for NASA and the private company Axiom.

This private capability, which far exceeds anything ever built by NASA or any government worldwide, is entirely because Elon Musk had the freedom and the will to push for his particular vision. He had a bold idea, and with courage he pursued it.
» Read more

Israeli fighter pilot to fly on Axiom’s first private Dragon launch in ’21

Capitalism in space: Axiom has revealed that an Israeli fighter pilot, Eytan Stibbe, will be the second passenger on on its first private Dragon launch to ISS in the fall of 2021.

Stibbe will be the second Israeli to fly in space, following Ilan Ramon, who died when the space shuttle Columbia broke up in 2003 during its return to Earth.

The Axiom AX-1 mission is scheduled to launch in the second half of 2021, which the company unveiled in a deal with SpaceX earlier this year. Astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, who previously worked for NASA and flew to space four times, will be the AX-1 mission commander, with Stibbe set to serve as a mission specialist.

AX-1 would be the first fully private mission to the International Space Station, with Lopez-Alegria and Stibbe flying with two other yet-to-be-named people.

The consistent rumors are that actor Tom Cruise and a movie director will be those other two passengers, but this is not confirmed.

It is important to emphasize that this space mission will be entirely private, with almost no involvement of the U.S. government other than providing coordination, the training of the astronauts, and the use of ISS. The rocket and spacecraft are SpaceX’s, purchased by the customer Axiom. Moreover, Axiom has plans to add its own private modules to ISS where future private space passengers will be housed, which will then reduce the government’s role and contribution even more.

And since this will be a private mission, it means the funds to fly it will come from its passengers, not the government. This also means that as long as there are customers, there will be no slow-down in future flights.

Resilience has docked with ISS

SpaceX’s Resilience Dragon capsule successfully docked with ISS tonight.

They are in the process of checking the seal of the docking, and the opening of the hatch.

As much as I have been critical of Boeing in recent years, I truly hope they can get their management and engineering problems worked out so they can accomplish the same thing with their Starliner capsule. The competition with SpaceX will be healthy for both companies, the nation, and the future of the human race.

SpaceX successfully launches four astronauts to ISS

Falcon 9 launch on November 15, 2020 with four astronauts

Capitalism in space: SpaceX tonight successfully launched four astronauts to ISS on its Dragon capsule Resilience, using its Falcon 9 rocket.

They also recovered the first stage, landing it on its drone ship in the Atlantic. The routine manner in which SpaceX ran this launch is truly admirable. They make landing and reuse of the first stage so expected it is hard to believe that for fifty years rocket managers and engineers insisted it wasn’t doable.

They had one issue today, a failure of the capsule hatch to hold air pressure after closure. They calmly reopened the hatch, cleared the issue, added some lubricant, and closed the hatch, all in less than ten minutes.

Resilience will dock with ISS tomorrow evening.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

30 China
20 SpaceX
5 ULA
4 Europe (Arianespace)
4 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 32 to 30 in the national rankings.

Watch today’s launch of SpaceX’s Resilience manned capsule

According to a NASA report yesterday, the weather then stood at 50% for allowing a launch of four astronauts to ISS on SpaceX’s Resilience capsule tonight at 7:27 pm (Eastern).

That percentage was still reported this morning. Part of the issue is that SpaceX wants to recover the first stage, and the weather therefore not only has to be good in Florida, it has to be good in the Atlantic where the stage will come down.

NASA’s live coverage begins at 3:15 pm (Eastern). The link to that live stream is below the fold. As I write this at around noon (Eastern) it is simply NASA TV’s normal feed, which is essentially full time propaganda for NASA. After 3:15 pm it will switch to live coverage, which unfortunately will still be packed with pro-NASA propaganda, even though this launch is entirely being run by the private company SpaceX. NASA’s only part is that of a customer, with the ability to say “no” at any point. The rocket, the capsule, the launchpad, and the countdown, is operated completely by SpaceX and its employees.

I have also added the clean feed from NASA, which appears to carry little commentary or narration.

» Read more

Weather forces one day delay in launch of Resilience with four astronauts

Because of high winds and ocean weather interfering with the recovery of the first stage, NASA and SpaceX today decided to delay the launch of SpaceX’s second manned Dragon mission, the capsule Resilience carrying four astronauts, to Sunday, November 15.

NASA and SpaceX are now targeting 7:27 p.m. EST Sunday, Nov. 15, for liftoff of the agency’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission to fly astronauts from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the International Space Station.

Teams moved the launch by one day because of onshore winds and to enable recovery of the first stage booster, which is planned to be reused to launch the Crew-2 mission next year. The booster is expected to land on the recovery ship about nine minutes after launch.

They now plan to dock with ISS at 11 am (eastern) on November 16th.

NASA officially approves operational Dragon manned missions

Capitalism in space: NASA yesterday officially certified SpaceX’s Dragon capsule for future operational manned missions to ISS.

NASA officials gave approval Tuesday for SpaceX to begin regular crew rotation flights to the International Space Station with the launch of four astronauts set for Saturday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, signaling a transition from development to operations for the human-rated Dragon spacecraft.

Mission managers completed a two-day Flight Readiness Review Tuesday and issued a preliminary go-ahead for the launch of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon “Resilience” spacecraft Saturday at 7:49 p.m. EST (0049 GMT Sunday) with NASA commander Mike Hopkins, pilot Victor Glover, and mission specialists Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi, a veteran Japanese space flier.

The decision means that SpaceX will now be rotating crews for NASA at ISS every six months. It will also be reusing both the first stages and the capsules. Endeavour, the capsule used on the demo flight earlier this year, will be reused in the spring. Resilience, the capsule scheduled for launch on November 14th, will be reused next fall.

Since SpaceX also has a commercial manned flight planned for next fall, that will probably require a third capsule. With those three capsules they will have at least for the next few years a fleet will cover all their initial needs. Don’t be surprised if however the introduce an upgraded capsule or two along the way, based on what they learn on these initial flights.

The article had one other piece of new news concerning Boeing’s Starliner capsule. The second unmanned demo flight has now officially been delayed into the first quarter of next year, rather than late this year.

NASA offers public chance to experience next manned mission virtually

NASA is now offering the general public the opportunity to virtually experience the next manned Dragon flight to ISS, set to launch on November 14th.

“Members of the public can attend the launch virtually, receiving mission updates and opportunities normally reserved for on-site guests,” NASA officials wrote in a statement on Tuesday (Nov. 3). “NASA’s virtual launch experience for Crew-1 includes curated launch resources, a digital boarding pass, notifications about NASA social interactions and the opportunity for a virtual launch passport stamp following a successful launch,” the agency added.

While much of this will be fun to do, much of it is also pure hype, designed to sell NASA to the public, even though the mission is being launched and run almost entirely by the private commercial company SpaceX, not NASA.

Next manned Dragon launch delayed

Because of an engine issue that caused Falcon 9 launch of a military GPS satellite to abort at T-2 seconds on October 2nd, SpaceX and NASA have decided to delay the next manned Dragon launch from October 31st “to early-to-mid November.”

The one to two week delay will give the company time to analyze the issue involving an “unexpected pressure rise in the turbomachinery gas generator” that are used to drive the rocket’s Merlin engine turbopumps.

It seems unlikely that this problem is systemic to all Merlin engines, considering the number of rocket launches SpaceX has successfully completed in the last four years. Each launch has used ten engines, with no evidence of this problem appearing previously.

At the same time, no one wants a problem on a manned flight. Better to completely understand why it happened on the GPS launch first before launching four astronauts on the rocket.

Crew for next Dragon manned flight name capsule “Resilience”

Capitalism in space: The crew for next Dragon manned flight, scheduled now for October 31st, have given the capsule the name “Resilience.”

Before arriving at Resilience, Hopkins and his crewmates filled a whiteboard with a long list of “good ideas” for their spacecraft’s name and then narrowed down their choices, he said.

“We wanted to make sure that the name fit,” Hopkins said in an interview with collectSPACE, following Tuesday’s press conference. “We got it down to two or three names and they were all very close in terms of that we liked them and could have been really happy with them, [but] at the end of the day, it was the one that just felt right.”

The crew of the first Dragon manned capsule named it Endeavour, to honor the shuttle spacecraft they had both flown in. The names of these capsules is not merely symbolic. Both capsules will be reused, like the shuttles, and thus deserve names to mark them when they fly again.

What is not clear yet is exactly how many capsules SpaceX will build, nor exactly how many times each capsule will be reused. The latter will of course help determine the former. It will take a few years and multiple flights to find out. Eventually however SpaceX will have its own fleet of manned spaceships, available not only to NASA but to private customers.

Changes in engineering and procedures for next manned Dragon flight

SpaceX is making several engineering and operational changes involving flights of its manned Dragon capsule, based on the company’s experience during the first manned flight several months ago.

First, they are reinforcing the heat shield in one area.

After a successful test flight that ended when NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico on Aug. 2, the company noticed “a little more erosion than we wanted to see” in a few areas of the capsule’s heat shield, Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX’s vice president of build and flight reliability, said during a press call this week. He said there “was nothing to be concerned with at all times. The astronauts were safe, and the vehicle was working perfectly.”

Second, they are revising the software used to determine the altitude when the capsule’s drogue parachute is released.

Koenigsmann said the company is refining how it measures the capsule’s altitude as it returns to Earth. During the August test flight, the drogue parachutes deployed at a slightly lower altitude than the company expected, but still well within safety parameters, he said.

Finally, they are going to more strictly enforce a 10-mile “keep-out zone” in the ocean where the capsule splashes down. They do not want to see another crowd of recreational boats swarming the landing zone, as happened when the capsule returned to Earth in August.

NASA & SpaceX set Oct 31st for next manned Dragon mission

Capitalism in space: NASA and SpaceX have now scheduled Oct 31st as the target launch date for the first operational manned Dragon mission to ISS, the second manned Dragon mission overall.

This new date delays the launch a week from the previous announced schedule, and was done to give some space between its launch and the launch of a manned Soyuz on October 14th and the return of a different Soyuz with the present ISS crew on October 21st.

Axiom, SpaceX, and NASA finalizing first wholly private manned mission

Capitalism in space: Axiom, SpaceX, and NASA are close to finalizing the deal for the first wholly private manned mission to ISS, tentatively set for October 2021.

One of the topics Axiom is negotiating with NASA involves how much insight the space agency will have into the private astronaut mission. While the Axiom missions will be managed by commercial companies, the AX-1 flight will fly with a reusable Crew Dragon spacecraft that will carry NASA astronauts on other missions. “There’s a certain amount of insight (NASA) would like on our flight, on a commercial flight,” [Axiom official] Suffredini said Friday. “So that is one aspect of that process. We’re using a vehicle that is going to be re-flown, and NASA will certify the re-flights because they want to do re-flights.”

Axiom and SpaceX will also have to confirm a schedule with NASA for the AX-1 mission to dock with the space station. The orbiting research complex has a busy schedule of arriving and departing crew and cargo vehicles, and managers also have slot in spacecraft dockings amid spacewalks, experiments, and other critical operations.

NASA also oversees safety of the space station with the program’s international partners.

The private companies however will in the end be responsible for the flight.

There have been rumors that the passengers on this flight will be Tom Cruise and his film director, though this is not confirmed. Also, these same arrangements will be used for the tentative 2023 private flight of the winner of a proposed reality television show dubbed Space Hero.

Reality show to fly contestant to ISS

Capitalism in space: A new reality show, dubbed Space Hero, will have audiences watch contestants compete to be a passenger on a private capsule, likely SpaceX’s Dragon, and fly to ISS for ten days.

The selected group of contestants will undergo extensive training and face challenges testing their physical, mental and emotional strength, qualities that are essential for an astronaut in space. I hear the idea is for the culmination of the competition to be in a an episode broadcast live around the world where viewers from different countries can vote for the contestant they want to see going to space. The show will then chronicle the winner’s takeoff; their stay at the ISS for 10 days alongside professional astronauts traveling at 17,000 mph, orbiting the Earth 16 times a day; and end with their return to Earth. The Space Hero company is currently in discussions with NASA for a potential partnership on STEM initiatives onboard the ISS.

The trip of the Space Hero winner is expected be on a SpaceX Dragon rocket though a launch provider is yet to be officially selected. Space Hero, billed as the first space media company, is working with Axiom Space, manufacturer of the world’s first privately funded commercial space station — a module for the ISS where the private astronauts can stay — and full-service human spaceflight mission provider.

The project seems more viable and realistic than previous such attempts, aided by the fact that tickets can now be purchased on a private and operational manned capsule.

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