Confirmed: Saudi Arabia buys two seats on next Axiom commercial flight to ISS

Capitalism in space: Saudi Arabia’s official press yesterday confirmed an earlier Reuters story that it has purchased two seats on an Axiom commercial flight to ISS, using a SpaceX Dragon capsule.

The twist is that the Saudi government says one of those astronauts will be a woman, and the mission should fly in 2023. It will include Axiom’s pilot, two Saudi passengers, and a fourth passenger, all as-yet unnamed.

The mission is part of what the Saudi government calls a new astronaut training program.

Saudi Arabia buys two seats on Dragon for Axiom commercial flight to ISS

Capitalism in space: According to an as-yet unconfirmed story today by Reuters, Saudi Arabia has purchased two seats on a SpaceX Dragon capsule as part of an Axiom commercial flight to ISS.

The sources for the story are all anonymous, and no one from Axiom or SpaceX or Saudi Arabia has confirmed it. Nonetheless, it seems entirely plausible, since Saudi Arabia has made it clear it is considering such a mission and Axiom and SpaceX are eager to sell tickets.

Axiom gets NASA approval to fly second commercial manned mission to ISS

Capitalism in space: NASA and Axiom have worked out their contract to allow Axiom to fly its second commercial manned mission to ISS, now scheduled for sometime in the spring of 2023.

Through the mission specific order, Axiom is obtaining from NASA services such as crew supplies, cargo delivery to space, storage, and other in-orbit resources for daily use. The order also accommodates up to an additional contingency week aboard the space station. This mission is subject to NASA’s updated pricing policy for private astronaut missions, which reflects the full value of services the agency is providing to Axiom that are above space station baseline capabilities.

The order also identifies capabilities NASA will obtain from Axiom, including the return of scientific samples that must be kept cold in transit back to Earth, the return of a Nitrogen/Oxygen Recharge System (NORS) tank, the capability for last-minute return of two cargo transfer bags, and up to 10 hours of the private astronaut mission commander’s time during the docked mission to complete NASA science or perform tasks for NASA.

The flight, dubbed Ax-2, will carry four Axiom passengers, three of whom will be paying passengers. It will be launched by SpaceX on its Falcon 9 rocket, carrying one of SpaceX’s four reusable manned Dragon capsules.

NASA awards SpaceX new $1.4 billion contract to launch its astronauts

Capitalism in space: NASA yesterday awarded SpaceX a new $1.4 billion contract to buy five more passenger flights to ISS, using SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon manned capsules.

This follows a similar contract extension in February that awarded SpaceX three more NASA passenger flights.

For Boeing, this contract award must hurt. If its Starliner manned capsule wasn’t years behind schedule, with numerous engineering errors slowing development, some of the cash from these two new SpaceX contracts would have certainly gone to Boeing. Instead, the company has had to spend more than $400 million of its own money trying to get Starliner fixed and operational.

Australian Space Agency confirms debris is from SpaceX Dragon capsule

Officials from the Australian Space Agency have inspected and confirmed that the debris that landed recently in the southeast Australia came from service module/trunk of a SpaceX Dragon capsule.

The agency had been alerted by Brad Tucker, an astrophysicist from the Australian National University, who first realised the timing and location of the debris falling coincided with a SpaceX spacecraft which re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere at 7am on 9 July, 20 months after its launch in November 2020.

Tucker believes the debris came from the unpressurised trunk of the SpaceX capsule, which is critical to take off but dumped when returning to earth.

This capsule was Resilience, launched on November 15, 2020 on SpaceX’s second manned launch for NASA. The capsule and crew returned in April, 2021. The service module apparently remained in orbit until July 2022, when its orbit decayed.

This service module was considered small enough it would burn up in the atmosphere. That assumption was apparently wrong. Though the pieces caused no damage, SpaceX needs to revise its operations to make sure future service modules will come back over the ocean, just in case sections reach the surface.

Space junk thought to be service module of Dragon manned capsule found in Australia

In news that is related to the impending crash of the Long March 5B core stage, Australian farmers have found scattered space junk pieces that some are claiming are the remains of the service module or trunk section that re-entered on May 5th, the day of the splashdown of SpaceX’s Endurance manned spacecraft.

The debris is most likely the unpressurized “trunk” of the spacecraft, astrophysicist Brad Tucker told “Having gone out there and looked at the bits myself, there is not a doubt in my mind it is space junk,” he said in an e-mail. The trunk is designed to send unpressurized cargo into space, and also to support the Crew Dragon during its launch, according to SpaceX (opens in new tab). Half of the trunk includes solar panels that power Dragon when the vessel is in flight or docked to the station. The trunk detaches from the spacecraft shortly before re-entry.

The sonic boom, Tucker said, was widely heard at 7:05 a.m. local time on July 9 and the pieces found near Dalgety were “very close to the tracked path of the SpaceX-1 Crew trunk.”

The problem with this claim is that the sonic boom on July 9th matches no SpaceX launch or re-entry. The material however could be from that Endurance capsule, which returned May 5th, if the trunk once detached did not re-enter until two months later.

If confirmed, this story is surprising, as that service module is thought to be too small to survive re-entry through the atmosphere. It is instead expected to burn up before reaching the ground.

UAE names astronaut to fly on six month commercial ISS mission, purchased from Axiom

Sultan Al Neyadi in training
Sultan Al Neyadi in training

Capitalism in space: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) yesterday announced that 41-year-old Sultan Al Neyadi will fly on six month ISS mission, launching in the spring of 2023. purchased from Axiom.

The UAE purchased a seat on the Falcon 9 rocket from Axiom Space, a space infrastructure development company in Houston. This is the Falcon 9 seat that Axiom Space was given by Nasa after the company gave up its Russian Soyuz rocket seat for American astronaut Mark Vande Hei in 2021.

MBRSC did not disclose how much they paid Axiom for the seat, but the agreement includes transport to and from the space station; comprehensive mission support; all necessary training and preparation for launch; flight operations, landing and crew rescue services.

The deal behind this seat is very complex. Essentially, Axiom paid for the seat of Mark Vande Hei’s flight on a Soyuz capsule from 2021 to 2022 (because NASA had no authorized funds to purchase that seat), and got a later seat on a Dragon for an Axiom commercial customer. It then signed a deal with the UAE for Al Neyedi’s flight in late April.

The result is the first long term commercial mission to space.

Al Neyadi has been in training for four years, and acted as the back up astronaut to the first UAE manned flight to ISS, purchased from the Russians in 2019.

Falcon 9 launches cargo Dragon to ISS

Capitalism in space: SpaceX tonight successfully used its Falcon 9 rocket to launch a Dragon freighter to ISS, with docking expected on July 16 at 11:20 am (Eastern).

The first stage landed successfully on a drone ship in the Atlantic, completing its fifth flight. The cargo Dragon is flying its third flight to the station.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

30 SpaceX
22 China
9 Russia
5 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 43 to 22 in the national rankings, and the entire globe combined 43 to 38.

Dragon cargo launch now delayed until July to fix fuel leak

Capitalism in space: Having now identified the source of a toxic hydrazine fuel leak in a Dragon cargo capsule that had been scheduled for launch on June 10th, SpaceX has now delayed the launch until July 11th so that it can fix the leak.

After removing propellant from the vehicle, “SpaceX was able to narrow down the source of the issue to a Draco thruster valve inlet joint,” the agency said. “Teams will now remove the specific hardware to replace it ahead of flight.”

Based on standard SpaceX procedures, it will not only replace this one valve, it will carefully figure out why it failed, and introduce an upgrade to all such valves so that this leak issue is never repeated. Such a policy has generally not been followed with much enthusiasm by older rocket companies in the past half century. The result had been the reappearance of such problems again and again, instead of a slow decline as each was found and eliminated.

Fuel leak scrubs launch of Dragon cargo capsule this week

A fuel leak detected during fueling of hydrazine in a Dragon cargo capsule as it was being prepared for a June 10th launch has forced SpaceX and NASA to delay the launch.

SpaceX detected “elevated vapor readings” of monomethyl hydrazine, or MMH, fuel in an “isolated region” of the Dragon spacecraft’s propulsion system during propellant loading ahead of this week’s launch, NASA said in a statement.

The fueling of the Dragon spacecraft is one of the final steps to prepare the capsule for flight, and typically occurs just before SpaceX moves the craft to the launch pad for integration with its Falcon 9 rocket.

The Dragon spacecraft has propellant tanks containing hydrazine fuel and nitrogen tetroxide oxidizer. The two propellants ignite upon contact with each other, providing an impulse for the cargo ship’s Draco thrusters used for in-orbit maneuvers.

Each Dragon spacecraft has 16 Draco thrusters, small rocket engines that generate about 90 pounds of thrust. The Draco engines are used for orbit adjustment burns and control the spacecraft’s approach to the space station, then fire at the end of the mission for a deorbit burn to guide the capsule back into the atmosphere for re-entry and splashdown.

According to the article, it is not yet confirmed that the leak came from the capsule. If so, however, it could become a more serious issue, especially with the recent story — denied strongly by NASA — that a hydrazine leak caused damage to the heat shield of Endeavour during the return of its Axiom commercial passenger flight.

SpaceX wins more NASA manned flights to ISS

Capitalism in space: NASA has now announced that it is buying five additional manned missions to ISS from SpaceX, beginning in ’26.

This new contract is in addition to a February ’22 NASA award that purchased three more Dragon flights.

After a thorough review of the long-term capabilities and responses from American industry, NASA’s assessment is that the SpaceX crew transportation system is the only one currently certified to maintain crewed flight to the space station while helping to ensure redundant and backup capabilities through 2030.

The current sole source modification does not preclude NASA from seeking additional contract modifications in the future for additional transportation services as needed.

The press release repeatedly makes it clear that NASA very much wishes to buy tickets on Boeing’s Starliner, but until it is declared operational it must give its business to SpaceX. Once Starliner begins flying, NASA will then buy seats on it and alternate between the two companies. Until then however this new SpaceX contract guarantees NASA enough flight capacity to keep ISS occupied, even if Starliner gets further delayed.

Regardless, Boeing has once again lost business to SpaceX because its Starliner capsule is not yet ready. In the long run this contract means fewer total flights for Boeing to ISS, which means less profits.

Did SpaceX’s Endeavour capsule have issues with its heat shield during its most recent return to Earth?

According to a May 23rd Space Explored article based on anonymous sources, the heat shield on SpaceX’s Endeavour capsule experienced “dangerously excessive wear upon reentry” because of a propellant leak.

Hypergolic propellant made its way into the Crew Dragon Endeavour’s heat shield, according to sources at SpaceX and NASA who spoke with Space Explored. This hypergolic propellant is used by the Crew Dragon in its Draco engines – hypergolic means that the two parts spontaneously combust upon contact. It is believed that this hypergolic propellant impacted the integrity of the heatshield, causing dangerously excessive wear upon reentry.

NASA however has now bluntly denied these claims:

“The data associated with Dragon’s recent crew reentries was normal — the system performed as designed without dispute. There has not been a hypergol leak during the return of a crewed Dragon mission nor any contamination with the heat shield causing excessive wear,” the NASA statement reads, in part.

“SpaceX and NASA perform a full engineering review of the heat shield’s thermal protection system following each return, including prior to the launch of the Crew-4 mission currently at the International Space Station,” the NASA statement continues. “The heat shield composite structure (structure below the tile) was re-flown per normal planning and refurbishment processes. The thermal protection system on the primary heat shield for Crew-4 was new, as it has been for all human spaceflight missions.”

Such a flat out denial by NASA strongly suggests that the anonymous sources relied on by Space Explored are not reliable, and got their facts wrong. While NASA will often try to hide or spin any issues to make them seem less worrisome, it has almost never denied the existence of a serious problem, when it was revealed that such a problem had occurred.

I know to say this sounds paranoid, but this story also suggests this claim might be part of the growing effort within the federal bureaucracy and the press to attack SpaceX, because of its new irrational hostility to Elon Musk because he supports achievement and free speech.

At the same time, SpaceX has recently had to discard and replace a Dragon heat shield planned for a future mission because of discovered “manufacturing defect” during normal preflight testing. This confirmed story, combined with the unconfirmed and questionable story above, suggests SpaceX needs to take a closer look at the Dragon heat shield design.

Endurance successfully splashes down, returning 4 astronauts after a 6 month mission

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s Endurance spacecraft successfully splashed down tonight off the coast of Florida, bringing home four astronauts after a six month mission on ISS.

This event capped a remarkable month for SpaceX. It launched two manned missions to ISS (one of which was entirely private) while returning two (including that private mission after seventeen days). In between the company also launched three Falcon 9 rockets putting satellites into orbit. All told, in the four weeks since the April 8th launch of the Axiom private manned mission to ISS, SpaceX completed five launches, all of which successfully landed the first stages for later reuse.

More important, everything on every one of those launches and splashdowns went like clockwork, with no problems, delays, or glitches. The only thing that delayed anything was the weather, something no one can do anything about.

Rocket engineering is hard, maybe the hardest technical challenge facing humans. The high quality of SpaceX’s work however is beginning to make it seem routine.

Endurance undocks from ISS for splashdown tonight; Watch here

SpaceX’s Endurance manned capsule today undocked from ISS carrying four astronauts with a planned splashdown off the coast of Florida at shortly after midnight (Eastern) tonight.

I have embedded the live stream for the splashdown below. It will go live about 11:00 pm (Eastern) in order to cover all the splashdown events:

11:48 p.m. Trunk jettison
11:53 p.m. Deorbit burn
12:04 a.m. Nosecone closed
12:43 a.m. Dragon splashdown
» Read more

SpaceX successfully launches 4 astronauts into orbit

Capitalism in space: SpaceX early this morning successfully used its Falcon 9 rocket to launch its new capsule, Freedom, carrying four astronauts into orbit and heading to a docking with ISS this evening.

The first stage successfully landed on the drone ship in the Atlantic, completing its fourth flight.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

16 SpaceX
11 China
5 Russia
2 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 23 to 11 in the national rankings. In fact, at this moment the U.S. leads all other nations combined, 23 to 19.

Watch first flight of SpaceX’s fourth capsule, Freedom, carrying four NASA astronauts

The next launch of a NASA crew to ISS is scheduled to occur tonight at 3:52 am (Eastern) using SpaceX’s new capsule, Freedom, the fourth in the company’s fleet of manned spacecraft. Note too that the first stage of this Falcon 9 rocket will be making its fourth flight into space.

I have embedded the live stream below. As I write this, at 1:19 am (Eastern) the crew has just entered the capsule. Go here for details about the flight, which will be a five month mission.

Commander Kjell Lindgren, veteran of one previous expedition on the space station, leads the four-person crew awaiting liftoff Wednesday. He will be joined by pilot Bob Hines and mission specialist Jessica Watkins, two first-time fliers from NASA’s astronaut corps. European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, a native of Italy who spent nearly 200 days in orbit in 2014 and 2015, rounds out the crew.

If the launch goes well, Freedom will dock with ISS about sixteen hours later.

If you watch, I must once again note that every person you see aiding the astronauts will be a SpaceX employee. Except for some of the announcers and NASA’s mission control for operating ISS, the launch mission control and everything else is run by this privately owned commercial company.

» Read more

Endeavour splashes down successfully

UPDATE: Endeavour has successfully splashed down, and crews are approaching to recover the capsule.

This by the way completes Endeavour’s third manned flight into space.

Original post:
The SpaceX capsule Endeavour, carrying Axiom’s first commercial passengers, undocked with ISS last night and is scheduled to splashdown off the coast of Florida shortly.

I have embedded the live stream below, scheduled to begin shortly.
» Read more

Return of Axiom mission delayed again because of weather

Because of marginal winds at the splashdown points, SpaceX, Axiom, and NASA agreed today to delay the return of Axiom’s first private mission to ISS one more day.

The Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1) crew is now targeting to undock from the International Space Station 8:55 p.m. EDT Sunday, April 23.

Weather permitting, the Ax-1 crew is targeted to close the hatch at about 6:45 p.m. Sunday, April 24, to begin the journey home in SpaceX Dragon Endeavour with splashdown off the coast of Florida approximately 1:00 p.m. Monday, April 25.

This delay will also delay the launch of NASA’s next crew to ISS on SpaceX’s new Dragon capsule, Freedom, now scheduled for launch no earlier than April 27th.

New schedule announced for landing of AX-1 crew and launch of NASA crew

Because of poor weather at the splashdown points on Earth, SpaceX and NASA have worked out a new schedule for both the landing of Axiom’s first passenger flight to ISS as well as NASA’s next launch of astronauts.

The integrated NASA, Axiom Space, and SpaceX teams have agreed on a plan for the Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1) crew to undock from the International Space Station at 8:35 p.m. EDT Saturday, April 23, for a splashdown off the coast of Florida about 1:46 p.m. Sunday, April 24. The decision was made based on the best weather for splashdown of the first private astronaut mission to visit the International Space Station and the return trajectory required to bring the crew and the SpaceX Dragon Endeavour spacecraft back to Earth safely.

…The departure of Dragon Endeavour from the space station will clear the docking port for the arrival of Dragon Freedom and NASA’s SpaceX Crew-4 astronauts. The earliest potential launch opportunity for the Crew-4 mission is 4:15 a.m. Tuesday, April 26, with additional opportunities Wednesday, April 27, and Thursday, April 28. These launch opportunities are undergoing a more detailed program review to ensure they align with integrated operational timelines. The teams want to provide a two-day gap after Ax-1 return for data reviews from splashdown and to prepare for the Crew-4 launch, including the staging of recovery assets.

If the landing occurs on April 23rd as now planned, the Axiom passengers will have spent fifteen days in space, about four more than originally planned.

NASA buys three more manned Dragon flights from SpaceX

Capitalism in space: NASA today officially announced that it has extended its contract with SpaceX for manned Dragon flights by three, paying the company an additional $900 million.

Prior to the modification, SpaceX was contracted to fly three more missions to the ISS: Crew-4 and Crew-5 in 2022 and Crew-6 in 2023. With the extension, which is “fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity,” per NASA’s statement. SpaceX’s period of performance now runs through March 31, 2028 — a nice regular paycheck for the growing launch and space operations company.

This contract extension raises what NASA is paying SpaceX for manned launch services from $2.6 billion to $3.49 billion.

While it is likely NASA would have brought more Dragon flights, it is also likely that some of these flights would have instead been bought from Boeing, if its much delayed Starliner manned capsule had been available. It is not, so SpaceX gets the business.

Boeing’s next attempt to complete Starliner’s first unmanned demo mission to ISS is now scheduled for May.

SpaceX and Jared Isaacman announce another private Dragon flight

Capitalism in space: SpaceX and Jared Isaacman, the man who organized and commanded the Inspiration4 private commercial manned Dragon flight last fall, today announced a second private commercial Dragon flight, scheduled for this coming fall.

SpaceX plans to launch a new private astronaut mission, Polaris Dawn, from Florida as early as Nov. 1 and will attempt to conduct the first private spacewalk in history, the company announced Monday.

Businessman Jared Isaacman, founder and CEO of the payments company Shift4, will command the mission, having previously he led the first all-private orbital mission in September known as Inspiration4. Isaacman is an experienced jet pilot.

The crew will also include two SpaceX engineers, Sarah Gillis and Anna Menon, as mission specialists and Isaacman’s business associate, Scott “Kidd” Poteet, as pilot.

The flight will attempt to achieve a higher orbit than even the highest flights during the U.S. space program’s Gemini missions that flew 853 miles above the Earth with astronauts Pete Conrad and Richard Gordon.

Isaacman has also tied this flight to more fundraising for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, suggesting that he was very happy with the charity received in connection with his Inspiration4 spaceflight. If this new flight comes off as planned, Isaacman will follow it up with two more SpaceX manned flights.

For the spacewalk, SpaceX will have to complete the development of its own EVA spacesuit, and have four suits available for the crew since Dragon capsules do not have an airlock.

NASA and SpaceX investigating parachute issue from recent Dragon missions

Both NASA and SpaceX are now conducting an investigation into the delayed release of one of four parachutes during landing on two different Dragon missions recently.

The first incident occurred during the landing of the Dragon capsule Resilience carrying the Inspiration4 commercial crew in November. The second occurred on January 24, 2022 during the return of a cargo freighter.

In both cases there was no safety risk, as the capsules can land safely with only three chutes. However, both NASA and SpaceX want to know why this is happening, and work out a solution to prevent it in the future.

ISS government partners give okay to Axiom’s first commercial crew to station

Capitalism in space: NASA announced yesterday that it as well as the other international partners for ISS have approved the crew and passengers who will fly on Axiom’s first commercial flight to the station, presently scheduled for launch on March 30, 2022, flying in SpaceX’s Endeavour capsule.

Axiom Space astronauts Michael López-Alegría, Larry Connor, Mark Pathy, and Eytan Stibbe are prime crew members of the Ax-1 mission. López-Alegría, who was born in Spain, raised in California, and a former NASA astronaut, will serve as the mission commander. Connor, of Dayton, Ohio, will serve as pilot. Pathy, from Canada, and Stibbe, from Israel, will be mission specialists. The quartet is scheduled to spend eight days aboard the orbiting laboratory conducting science, education, and commercial activities before their return to Earth.

Because the four will be staying at this government station, they must work with NASA, which appears to be requiring them to do some research while on board. Those experiments are still “under review” though Axiom has already revealed a suite of microgravity experiments the crew will perform.

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.

SpaceX launches cargo Dragon to ISS using new 1st stage

Capitalism in space: In what will likely be its last launch in 2021, SpaceX early this morning successfully launched a reused Dragon cargo capsule to ISS.

This was the company’s 31st launch in 2021, extending its record for the most launches in a single year by a private company. The launch’s big news however was that the company used a new first stage booster, only the second time in 2021 that it needed to do so (the first was in May). The first stage successfully landed on the drone ship in the Atlantic, completing SpaceX’s 100th successful recovery.

The first such vertical landing had occurred in December 2015, and now six years later and after a hundred vertical landings, SpaceX remains the only orbital rocket entity in the world with such a capability. A very small handful of companies have performed tests with smaller scale prototypes, but that so much time has passed and no one has pushed forward to meet SpaceX’s challenge with even some full scale preliminary test flights does not reflect well on the innovative culture of the world’s rocket industry.

As for SpaceX’s yearly record, 31 launches actually exceeds the number of launches the entire U.S. rocket industry generally managed each year from 1970 through 2017. During much of that time the launch industry was run by NASA in a Soviet-style top-down system that stifled competition and innovation. Beginning in 2008, when SpaceX won its first contract with NASA, that system was abandoned by NASA, switching instead to capitalism and competition, whereby NASA was merely a customer buying its launches from the open market. The positive results from that change have been breath-taking, proving once again that freedom, competition, and private enterprise will win every single time over government programs and communist/socialist ideology.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

48 China
31 SpaceX
22 Russia
6 Europe (Arianespace)
5 Rocket Lab

The U.S. and China are now tied 48 to 48 in the national rankings. This was the 127th launch in 2021, tying it with 1976 for the second most successful year in rocketry in the history of space exploration. With five more announced launches on the schedule, there is a chance that this year could tie the record year, 132 in 1975.

Russia selects first astronaut to fly on Dragon

Russia, as part of the continuing barter deal with NASA for seats on the capsules of both countries, has selected rookie astronaut Anna Kikina to be the first Russian to fly on a Dragon capsule.

Kikina is the only woman currently active in the Russian cosmonaut corps. She was selected in 2012 but has yet to fly in space, although Rogozin and other Russian officials had previously said she would fly in the fall of 2022. She would likely be on the Crew-5 Crew Dragon mission, to which NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada and JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata are currently assigned.

While according to the Russians the barter deal is finalized, according to NASA negotiations are still ongoing. This announcement by the Russians might actually be a negotiating tactic, since the tensions between the U.S. and Russia over Russian threats to the Ukraine could threaten the partnership at ISS. By making this announcement the Russians might be trying to make the barter deal an accomplished fact.

NASA buys more Dragon manned flights

Capitalism in space: To give it some coverage because of continuing delays in Boeing’s Starliner manned capsule, NASA announced yesterday that it has awarded SpaceX contracts for three more manned Dragon manned flights to ISS.

NASA issued a contract notification announcing its plans to issue a sole-source award to SpaceX for three missions. Those missions would be in addition to the six “post-certification missions,” or PCMs, that SpaceX won as part of its $2.6 billion Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract in 2014. The announcement did not state the price of those three new missions.

This is money that would have gone to Boeing, if it had gotten its act together and gotten Starliner flying on schedule. Instead, SpaceX is making the profits.

There has been no updates from Boeing since October on the valve issue that now stalls Starliner. While Boeing claims it is aiming for an unmanned demo flight to ISS in early ’22, this remains entirely speculative at this moment.

Axiom sets launch date for first private commercial manned mission to ISS

Capitalism in space: Axiom has set February 21, 2022 as the target launch date for its first private commercial manned mission to ISS, carrying one employee and three passengers for eight days.

In making the announcement the company emphasized the science research the passengers — Larry Connor, Mark Pathy, and Eytan Stibbe — will do:

The crew activities of Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1) will focus on science, education, and outreach, conducting approximately 25 experiments while onboard the ISS. Critical data from studies in human research, life and physical sciences, technology demonstrations, and Earth observation will expand the applicability of microgravity research to new sectors. The crew has submitted over 100 hours of human-tended research to conduct during their stay on station.

The commander will be former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, who now works for Axiom. This will be his fifth spaceflight.

SpaceX successfully launches four astronauts to ISS

At launch
Falcon 9 lifts off from Cape Canaveral.

Capitalism in space: SpaceX tonight successfully used its Falcon 9 rocket to launch four astronauts to ISS on its new Endurance capsule.

SpaceX now has three capsules in its manned fleet, Endeavour, Resilience, and Endurance. This was the company’s fifth manned launch, and its fourth for NASA. The crew will dock with ISS tomorrow in the early evening.

The company also successfully landed its first stage, which was also making its second flight.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

41 China
24 SpaceX
18 Russia
4 Northrop Grumman
4 Europe (Arianespace)

China now leads the U.S. 41 to 37 in the national rankings.

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