ISS crew splashes down safely

SpaceX’s Endurance manned capsule yesterday safely splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico, bringing home a crew of four astronauts from ISS after completing a six month mission.

NASA astronaut Jasmin Moghbeli, ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Andreas Mogensen, JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Satoshi Furukawa, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Konstantin Borisov, returned to Earth splashing down at 5:47 a.m. EDT. Teams aboard SpaceX recovery vessels retrieved the spacecraft and its crew. After returning to shore, the crew will fly to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

…Moghbeli, Mogensen, Furukawa, and Borisov traveled 84,434,094 miles during their mission, spent 197 days aboard the space station, and completed 3,184 orbits around Earth. The Crew-7 mission was the first spaceflight for Moghbeli and Borisov. Mogensen has logged 209 days in space over his two flights, and Furukawa has logged 366 days in space over his two flights.

This was the third flight of Endurance. As always, it is important to note that though the passengers were government employees from the U.S., Europe, Japan, and Russia, the entire splashdown crew and capsule were private employees of SpaceX. This was a private mission, purchased by those governments.

SpaceX launches four astronauts to ISS

Using its Falcon 9 rocket lifting off from Cape Canaveral, SpaceX early this morning put four astronauts into orbit for a six month mission to ISS.

The Dragon capsule, Endurance, was making its third flight. The first stage, flying for the first time, landed successfully back at Cape Canaveral.

The leaders in the 2023 launch race:

58 SpaceX
37 China
12 Russia
7 Rocket Lab

In the national rankings, American private enterprise now leads China in successful launches 67 to 37. It also leads the entire world combined, 67 to 60, while SpaceX by itself now trails the rest of the world (excluding American companies) 58 to 60 in successful launches.

First picture of hole that occurred on Soyuz in December

Hole in First picture of hole that occurred on Soyuz in December

Russia has now released an image taken using the robot arm on ISS of the leak that occurred on its Soyuz capsule docked to ISS in December.

The picture to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, is that image. This is not the coolant leak hole on the Progress freighter on February 11th, this past weekend. As of now no image of that hole has ever been released.

No interpretation of this hole and the stain around it has as yet been released. However, Russia has now postponed the launch of the next Soyuz capsule from February 19th until early March in order “to give investigators time to rule out similar issues in the upcoming mission.” This Soyuz was to launch unmanned to replace the Soyuz that leaked in December and provide the astronauts that launched on that leaking Soyuz a safe lifeboat that they could come home on.

Meanwhile, all communications with ISS have now been shifted to the private channels, so the public cannot hear them.

All these actions strongly suggest that both the Russians and Americans are now seriously considering the possibility of sabotage or damage to the coolant systems on all Russian spacecraft, before they leave the factory and are launched.

ISS as of February 11, 2023

To clarify the situation, the image to the right shows all the spacecraft presently docked to ISS. Progress 82 is the spacecraft that experienced a leak in its coolant system on February 11th. Soyuz-MS22 experienced a leak in its coolant system in December. At the moment the only safe vehicle for returning the seven astronauts on ISS is Crew-5 Dragon, SpaceX’s Endurance spacecraft. Should a major catastrophe occur requiring an immediate evacuation of the station, the plan right now is for five astronauts to come home on Endurance, and two Russians to come home on the damaged Soyuz. (The thinking is that having only two men on board will prevent too much of a temperature rise during the return to Earth because of the lack of its coolant system.)

With the delay in the launch of the replacement Soyuz lifeboat, this emergency plan will be in place for at least three weeks longer.

Astronauts complete Soyuz seat liner installation inside Endurance

Astronauts today completed the installation of Frank Rubio’s Soyuz seat liner inside the Dragon capsule Endurance so that he can return to Earth should an emergency requiring evacuation occur on ISS.

On Jan. 17, NASA Flight Engineer Josh Cassada, with assistance from NASA Flight Engineer Nicole Mann, worked inside the SpaceX Dragon Endurance crew ship collecting tools and readying the spacecraft for a seat liner move. The seat liner move, completed today, Jan. 18, ensures NASA Flight Engineer Frank Rubio will be able to return to Earth in the unlikely event of an emergency evacuation from the International Space Station. Rubio originally launched to the station with cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin aboard the Soyuz MS-22 crew ship on Sept. 21, 2022. The change allows for increased crew protection by reducing the heat load inside the MS-22 spacecraft for Prokopyev and Petelin in case of an emergency return to Earth.

It would be fascinating to get more details about the work that was done to install this Soyuz seat liner in Endurance. Clearly some improvisation was required.

Regardless, this work is only temporary, since Rubio’s seat liner will be shifted again into the replacement Soyuz scheduled to arrive in mid-February.

American astronaut seat liner shifted to Dragon temporarily

Though NASA has not issued an update, the Soyuz seat liner used by American astronaut Frank Rubio was supposed to be shifted from the leaking Soyuz capsule to Endurance today, just in case that Soyuz needs to be used as a lifeboat. From the January 13th ISS update:

On Thursday, Jan. 12, the International Space Station mission management team polled “go” to move NASA astronaut Frank Rubio’s Soyuz seat liner from the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft to Dragon Endurance to provide lifeboat capabilities in the event Rubio would need to return to Earth because of an emergency evacuation from the space station. The seat liner move is scheduled to begin Tuesday, Jan. 17, with installation and configuration continuing through most of the day Wednesday, Jan. 18. The change allows for increased crew protection by reducing the heat load inside the MS-22 spacecraft for cosmonauts Prokopyev and Petelin in the event of an emergency return to Earth.

Once the replacement Soyuz MS-23 arrives at the space station on Feb. 22, Rubio’s seat liner will be transferred to the new Soyuz and the seat liners for Prokopyev and Petelin will be moved from MS-22 to MS-23 ahead of their return in the Soyuz.

I expect that once this work is completed tomorrow NASA will issue an update.

Endurance docks at ISS

Like clockwork SpaceX’s Endurance capsule successfully docked at ISS yesterday, delivering four astronauts to the station for a six month mission.

The most interesting aspect of this launch and crew is Russian Anna Kikina.

Kikina is the first Russian to fly aboard a U.S. spacecraft in nearly 20 years. She and Rubio were launched under a new agreement between NASA and Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, that ensures at least one astronaut or cosmonaut is always aboard the space station even if a Crew Dragon or Soyuz is forced to depart early, taking its crew with it.

Without the seat-swap arrangement, a medical emergency or some other major problem could leave an all-Russian or all-NASA crew aboard without the expertise to operate the other nation’s systems.

The agreement had been stalled almost entirely by the former head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin. He is now gone however, sent by Putin to take over the fake occupation government in parts of the Ukraine. It appears his bellicose manner, that caused the loss of a billion dollars in launch contracts with OneWeb, was more than even Putin could handle.

With him gone, the new head of Roscosmos, Yuri Borisov, quickly finalized this astronaut barter deal. He has also publicly acted to try to ease tensions between the U.S. and Russian space agencies.

Important Roscosmos official endorses continuing cooperation with US in space

In a clear sign of the distinct change in atmosphere since the removal of Dmitry Rogozin as head of Roscosmos, the executive director of human space flight programs at Roscosmos, Sergei Krikalev, yesterday endorsed the longstanding cooperation between the U.S. and Russia in space.

Krikalev’s comments came after the launch yesterday of Endurance with one Russian astronaut as part of its four-person crew.

At a briefing after the Oct. 5 launch of the Crew-5 mission from the Kennedy Space Center, Sergei Krikalev, executive director of human space flight programs at Roscosmos, emphasized long-running cooperation between the United States and Russia in civil space, cooperation that has been strained since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

“We just continue what we started many years ago in 1975 when the Apollo-Soyuz crew worked together, and now we continue our cooperation,” he said after mentioning a “new phase of cooperation” with the exchange of seats between NASA and Roscosmos.

To understand the importance of Krikalev’s comments, you must also understand the context. First, Krikalev is a very significant figure in the history of Russia. He was called the last Soviet citizen, having been stranded on Mir an extra few months when the Soviet Union fell in 1991. Then he was the first Russian to fly on the shuttle, followed later by being on the first mission to ISS, when it was only two modules.

Since his retirement as an active astronaut, he has become the man in charge of Russia’s manned program, where he clashed with Rogozin several times over policy. His opposition to Rogozin almost certainly was a factor in Rogozin’s removal.

Krikalev’s endorsement of continuing the U.S-Russian partnership only cements that partnership, especially because Krikalev himself is a dyed-in-the-wool communist at heart. At least, he said so emphatically when I interviewed him at length in 2003 for Leaving Earth. I doubt his mind has changed in this matter, though his relentless honesty as an engineer has probably shaken his dedication to that failed ideology in subsequent years.

Nonetheless, his standing in Russia gives any statement he makes great weight. Expect more efforts by the Russians to ease tensions with the U.S., though their chances of success will be limited as long as Russia is continuing its unprovoked invasion of the Ukraine.

SpaceX successfully launches astronauts to ISS

Capitalism in space: SpaceX this morning successfully launched two NASA astronauts, one Japanese astronaut, and one Russian astronaut into orbit for a mission to ISS, with the docking scheduled for tomorrow.

The capsule, Endurance, is making its second flight. This was SpaceX’s eighth manned launch. The first stage, making its first fight, landed successfully on the drone ship in the Atlantic. This was the first new first stage launched since May 2022, and only the second this year. All other launches in 2022 were completed using SpaceX’s existing fleet of boosters. The company also continues to hold to the pattern of last year for maintaining that fleet, by adding two new boosters each year.

That this achievement is now becoming as routine as SpaceX’s unmanned launches proves the company’s success. And SpaceX did it in less than a decade, something NASA with its government-built shuttle was never able to accomplish.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

44 SpaceX
41 China
12 Russia
7 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise now leads China 63 to 41 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 63 to 61.

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.

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’s fourth manned Dragon capsule named “Freedom”

Capitalism in space: The astronauts who will fly to ISS on April 19th on the SpaceX’s fourth manned Dragon capsule announced yesterday that they named it “Freedom,” both to honor that fundamental human right that is also fundamental to American history as well as to honor the memory of the first American spacecraft, Freedom 7, which launched Alan Shepard on his short suborbital flight in 1961.

Once launched, SpaceX will have a fleet of four manned capsules, Endeavour, Resilience, Endurance, and Freedom.

Endeavour has carried humans aloft twice for NASA, and is scheduled to fly a record third time on April 3rd when it carries four commercial passengers to ISS for the company Axiom.

Resilience has also flown twice, once for NASA and once for SpaceX itself, launching a crew of commercial passengers in the fall of 2021.

Endurance has flown once, for NASA.

With the addition of Freedom, SpaceX will have a fleet of four manned spacecraft, matching the size of NASA’s now gone shuttle fleet. Whether the company will need to build more will depend on demand and on the number of missions it thinks these reusable capsules can complete safely.

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.

Viewing tonight’s Endurance launch with four astronauts

NASA has published an updated schedule for the launch tonight of four astronauts to ISS in SpaceX’s new Endurance Dragon capsule.

The launch now is targeted for no earlier than 9:03 p.m. EST Wednesday, Nov. 10, on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The launch follows a successful return of the agency’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission.

The Crew Dragon Endurance is scheduled to dock to the space station at 7:10 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 11. Launch and docking coverage will air live on NASA Television, the NASA app, and the agency’s website.

You can also watch it on SpaceX’s website, as well as the embedded live stream below, which begins around 4 pm (Eastern).

This will be the fourth manned flight SpaceX has launched for NASA, the fifth overall using three spacecraft.
» Read more

Endeavour undocking from ISS delayed one day; Endurance launch still set for November 10th

Because of high winds, the undocking of Endeavour from ISS was delayed from yesterday until today, with the landing now set for later this evening.

If conditions are favorable Monday, Crew-2 astronauts Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, Akihiko Hoshide and Thomas Pesquet will enter their Crew Dragon capsule currently attached to the International Space Station and depart at 2:05 p.m. ET. Splashdown in one of seven potential landing sites off the Florida coast is expected about eight hours later at 10:33 p.m. ET.

The 24-hour delay from Sunday to Monday, however, didn’t impact the timing for another crew waiting to swap positions. Crew-3 astronauts Kayla Barron, Raja Chari, Thomas Marshburn, and Matthias Maurer are prepping for their Falcon 9 launch currently scheduled for no earlier than 9:03 p.m. Wednesday. Kennedy Space Center’s pad 39A will host.

Both NASA and SpaceX want to get Endeavour back to Earth, as it has already exceeded the six month time it is designed (at present) to stay in space.

Endeavour and crew to return to Earth tomorrow

UPDATE: The landing and launch have been delayed again because of weather, with the ISS crew now targeting a splashdown tomorrow, November 8th, and the new crew targeting a November 10th launch.

The four astronauts who were brought to ISS six months ago by the Dragon capsule Endeavour will now return to Earth early tomorrow, ahead of the next crew that is now scheduled to launch to ISS on November 10th on the Dragon capsule Endurance.

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission now is targeting a return to Earth no earlier than 7:14 a.m. EST Monday, Nov. 8, with a splashdown off the coast of Florida. The Crew Dragon spacecraft, named Endeavour, is scheduled to undock from the International Space Station at 1:05 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 7, to begin the journey home. NASA will preview the mission on Saturday, Nov. 6 and provide coverage Sunday of the mission on NASA Television, the NASA app, and the agency’s website.

The agency decided to flip the two events in order to make sure it could get Endeavour back to Earth before it exceeded its seventh-month life limit in space.

A reminder: Both the splashdown of Endeavour and the launch of Endurance will be run by a private company, SpaceX, with the government merely acting as customer. Every worker you see, except for the astronauts, will be employees of SpaceX, not NASA.

Astra proposes its own 13,000 satellite internet constellation

Capitalism in space: Astra, the startup smallsat rocket company that has yet to successfully complete an orbital launch, has filed with the FCC a proposal to launch a 13,000 satellite constellation for providing internet services globally.

Astra said its satellites would be built in-house, and would be launched on Astra’s own rockets. The satellites would be sent into orbital altitudes ranging from 236 to 435 miles (380 to 700 kilometers), and would be equipped with propulsion systems to aid in collision avoidance and post-operational deorbiting.

Potential applications for Astra’s high-bandwidth connectivity would include communications services, environmental and natural resource applications and national security missions.

Though Astra could certainly launch many of these satellites itself, it is unlikely it launch them all with its small rocket. Thus, more launch business for other rocket companies!

Weather forces another delay for Endurance launch to ISS

Because of poor weather expected on November 7 evening NASA and SpaceX have once again delayed the launch of the manned Dragon capsule Endurance carrying four astronauts to ISS.

The U.S. space agency and SpaceX have pushed the launch of the Crew-3 mission, which will send four astronauts to the International Space Station, from Saturday (Nov. 6) to Monday (Nov. 8) at the earliest, because of anticipated bad weather over the coming days.

NASA and SpaceX are also now considering whether to bring the four astronauts of the previous mission, Crew-2, back down to Earth before sending Crew-3 skyward.

The reason they might bring the crew home first is because the capsule they will be using, Endeavour, is only rated to stay in space for seven months, and the end of that time period is approaching. If they wait much longer, the mediocre November weather could prevent a return before that end date is reached.

Dragon manned launch delayed again

NASA announced today that the manned launch of four astronatus to ISS on SpaceX’s Endurance spacecraft has been delayed again, pushed back to November 6tth because of a “minor medical issue”.

The agency says one of the astronauts has a “minor medical issue.” The issue is not a medical emergency and not related to COVID-19, according to NASA.

The launch is now set for 11:36 pm (Eastern) that evening.

Dragon crew launch to ISS delayed due to weather

The early morning launch on October 31st of the next manned flight of SpaceX’s Endurance capsule to ISS, has been delayed because of poor weather downrange from the launch site.

The bad weather could have interfered with recovery operations should a launch abort had been necessary and the capsule was forced to land in the Atlantic.

The launch has now been rescheduled for 1:10 am (Eastern) on November 3rd.

Astronauts name next new Dragon capsule to fly “Endurance”

The astronauts who will fly on SpaceX’s new Dragon capsule at the end of this month have named it “Endurance”, for a variety of reasons.

“First off,” said [mission commander Raja Chari], “it is a tribute to the tenacity of the human spirit as we push humans and machines farther than we ever have, going both to stay and extended stays in low Earth orbit, opening it up to private companies and private astronauts and knowing we will continue our exploration to go into even further and continue.”

“Also, it is a nod to the development teams, production teams [and] training teams that got us here, who have endured through a pandemic,” he said.

…Lastly, there was a historical connection — one that spoke to the mission they are about to embark on and the skills it will take for it be successful.”I go straight to the Shackleton voyage,” said Marshburn, referring to Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 expedition to cross Antarctica. Shackleton’s ship, the Endurance, was trapped in ice and he and his crew endured months of hardship before being rescued.

SpaceX’s fleet of manned capsules now includes Endeavour, Resilience, and Endurance. A fourth capsule is scheduled to fly in April ’22, but no name as yet has been announced.