Cygnus freighter fires engine, adjusts ISS orbit for first time

For the first time the engines on a Cygnus capsule were used successfully yesterday to adjust the orbit of the International Space Station (ISS).

On Saturday, June 25, Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus completed its first limited reboost of the International Space Station. Cygnus’ gimbaled delta velocity engine was used to adjust the space station’s orbit through a reboost of the altitude of the space station. The maneuver lasted 5 minutes, 1 second and raised the station’s altitude 1/10 of a mile at apogee and 5/10 of a mile at perigee. This Cygnus mission is the first to feature this enhanced capability as a standard service for NASA, following a test of the maneuver which was performed in 2018 during Cygnus’s ninth resupply mission.

NASA’s goal is to have this capability without relying on Russia’s Progress capsules, which up until now have been used to adjust the station’s orbit. It appears from yesterday’s test this this goal has now been met.

ISS forced to dodge space junk from Russia’s November ’21 anti-sat test

Last week the Russians were forced to use the engines of the Progress cargo capsule docked to ISS to shift the station’s orbit slightly to avoid a collision with some debris left over from Russia’s anti-satellite test in November 2021.

“I confirm that at 22.03 Moscow time, the engines of the Russian Progress MS-20 transport cargo ship carried out an unscheduled maneuver to avoid a dangerous approach of the International Space Station with a fragment of the Kosmos-1408 spacecraft,” Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin wrote on Telegram (opens in new tab), according to a Google translation, using Roscosmos’ designation for Progress 81.

While the Russians have consistently denied the anti-sat test and the 1,500 satellite pieces it created would cause a collision threat, yesterday’s action was not a surprise, and was predicted by many right after the test.

The concern however is not the debris that has been identified and is being tracked, since collisions from that stuff can be predicted and avoided. The concern is from the smaller pieces that were not identified.

NASA shuffles crew for first Starliner manned mission

In a press release yesterday, NASA announced the two-person crew that will fly on the first manned mission of Boeing’s Starliner capsule to ISS.

[C]ommander Barry “Butch” Wilmore, whom NASA assigned to the prime crew in October 2020, will join NASA astronaut Suni Williams, who will serve as pilot. Williams previously served as the backup test pilot for CFT [crew test flight] while assigned as commander of NASA’s Boeing Starliner-1 mission, Starliner’s first post-certification mission. As CFT pilot, Williams takes the place of NASA astronaut Nicole Mann, originally assigned to the mission in 2018. NASA reassigned Mann to the agency’s SpaceX Crew-5 mission in 2021.

The crew for this flight, delayed now more than two years, has changed several times. In 2020 astronaut Chris Ferguson dropped out for personal reasons. Then NASA listed the crew as Wilmore, Mike Finke, and Nicole Mann, with Williams then assigned to Starliner’s next mission, its first long term flight to ISS.

With this change, the crew has been reduced to two, and Finke is now listed as a backup should something further change with the prime crew.

The press release made no mention of an actual launch date, though it did say that Boeing and NASA are still reviewing the data from Starliner’s unmanned demo mission:

The Starliner team is in the process of delivering the initial test flight data to NASA and jointly determining forward work ahead of a crewed flight. These engineering and program reviews are expected to continue for several weeks, culminating in a launch schedule assessment at the end of July, based upon spacecraft readiness, space station scheduling needs, and Eastern Range availability.

The goal had been to fly before the end of this year. It appears NASA and Boeing are still pushing to meet that goal.

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.

Russian government gives Roscosmos permission to negotiate astronaut barter deal

The Russian prime minister yesterday signed a decree giving Roscosmos permission to negotiate a astronaut exchange deal with NASA, whereby for every American that flies on a Soyuz to ISS one Russian would fly on either a Dragon or Starliner capsule.

NASA has been pushing for this arrangement for about a year, but Russia was at first skittish about flying on Dragon. Then its invasion of the Ukraine raised further barriers. Now that it is clear the Russians have no options in space but to stick with ISS for at least the next few years, the Russian government has relented and will allow this barter arrangement to go forward.

NASA had been pushing to put the first Russian on a Dragon in the fall. That flight is now likely to happen.

Of course, all this could change should things change drastically in the Ukraine. The partnership on ISS remains quite fragile politically, even if the astronauts and engineers and workers of both sides continue to work together well.

Rogozin suggests Russia will stay on ISS till at least ’24

In remarks this past weekend on Russian television, Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin said that Russia now plans to continue its international partnership on ISS till at least 2024.

“The ISS will work exactly as long as the Russian side needs to work on it,” Rogozin said. “There are technical problems. The station has been operating beyond its lifespan for a long time. We have a government decision that we are working until 2024.”

…Earlier this year, it was reported by some media outlets that Russia was planning to quit the ISS, blaming Western sanctions, following comments Rogozin made on state television. Rogozin said: “The decision has been taken already, we’re not obliged to talk about it publicly. I can say this only—in accordance with our obligations, we’ll inform our partners about the end of our work on the ISS with a year’s notice.”

The Russian government is presently attempting to develop its own space station for launch before the end of this decade. Since such Russian projects have for decades routinely been delayed, for decades, it is likely that the Putin government has decided that it is better to stay on ISS for the moment then quit and have no space station at all.

Russia has also been negotiating with China to partner with it on China’s space station. While China says it is willing, it also appears entirely uninterested in committing any of its funds to help Russia. It might allow a Russia astronaut to visit its station at some point, but that would likely be the limit of that space station partnership.

All in all, Russia’s space effort faces a dim future. ISS is going to be replaced with several private commercial stations owned by American companies, none of which want to partner with Russia. And Russia doesn’t really have the funds to build its own station. Nor does it have a competitive aerospace industry capable of developing its own stations.

Unless something significant changes soon, Russia’s place in space will shrink considerably in the next ten years.

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.

Starliner successfully lands in New Mexico

Starliner on its way down

Capitalism in space: Boeing today successfully completed the safe landing of Starliner from an unmanned demo mission to ISS, making it the only American capsule to touchdown on the ground using parachutes. This was the second Starliner to do so, though the first demo mission was cut short just after reaching orbit.

The screen capture to the right comes from the live stream, about two minutes before touchdown. You can see the airbags deployed under the capsule, which inflated just after the heat shield was jettisoned.

The capsule landed only 0.3 miles from its target, an excellent result. Crews are now heading to the capsule at White Sands to carefully check it out, to make sure no hazardous fuel leaks pose a threat to those ground crews.

I must complement Boeing (and NASA) on providing very professional coverage. It has often been painful in recent years to watch any NASA broadcast because of the breathless propaganda the agency has somehow thought it needed to do. In this case however the announcers and the broadcast were calm, thoughtful, and very informative, focused not on emotion but on reporting what was actually happening. Kudos to Boeing!
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Watch Starliner’s return to Earth

The astronauts on ISS closed the hatch yesterday on Boeing’s Starliner manned capsule in preparation for its return to Earth today, with a planned landing at White Sands, New Mexico, at 6:49 pm (Eastern).

I have embedded NASA’s live stream below. The undocking at 2:36 pm (Eastern), with the live stream beginning at 2:30 pm (Eastern). After the capsule separates and ends joint operations with ISS the live stream will break off until 5:45 pm (Eastern), when it will resume to cover the landing.
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Finding ways to clean ISS and future interplanetary spaceships

Fungi on ISS

According to multiple studies (see here, here, and here), a whole range of microorganisms, from bacteria (some dangerous) to fungi, have been found prospering on ISS.

The photo to the right shows a typical example of fungi growing on one of ISS’s older surfaces.

A European Space Agency (ESA) project is attempting to developing new coatings that will not only protect surfaces but act to clean them as well.

“With astronauts’ immune systems suppressed by microgravity, the microbial populations of future long-duration space missions will need to be controlled rigorously,” explains ESA material engineer Malgorzata Holynska. “So ESA’s Materials’ Physics and Chemistry Section is collaborating with Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, IIT, to study antimicrobial materials that could be added to internal cabin surfaces.”

The IIT team has begun work on titanium oxide, also known as ‘titania’, used for example in self-cleaning glass down here on Earth, as well as in hygienic surfaces. When titanium oxide is exposed to ultraviolet light, it breaks down water vapour in the air into ‘free oxygen radicals’, which eat away whatever is on the surface, including bacterial membranes. “Bacteria gets inactivated by the oxidative stress generated by these radicals,” says Mirko Prato of IIT. “This is an advantage because all the microorganisms are affected without exception, so there is no chance that we increase bacterial resistance in the same way as some antibacterial materials.”

The application however is not as simple as painting the surface. Right now they wish to keep this coating as thin as possible (“50 to 100 nanometres, millionths of a millimetre”) so that it could even be applied to clothing, which requires using complex techniques similar to those used to make semi-conductors.

Though hand cleaning would likely be much simpler and cheaper, there are issues. First, it isn’t as easy to scrub a surface by hand in weightlessness. Second, in a closed environment like ISS cleaning materials pose a greater hazard to both the occupants and the equipment. Better if the surfaces of equipment and clothing are designed to stay clean, on their own.

Starliner successfully docks with ISS

Starliner docked to ISS
Screen capture just after soft docking.

Boeing and NASA today successfully docked an unmanned Starliner capsule to ISS for the first time, completing the up-from-Earth portion of this demo mission to prove out this Boeing spacecraft as a future ferry to bring astronauts to and from the station.

The screen capture to the right, taken from the live feed, shows Starliner just after a successful soft capture docking. This was shortly followed by a hard dock.

They will open the hatch tomorrow after checking out the capsule’s linkage with ISS.

The docking itself was delayed by about 78 minutes, partly to time the docking during a period of good orbital communications and partly because of an issue with NASA’s own docking ring on the station that required engineers to reset it.

Starliner reaches proper orbit despite thruster problems

Unbelievable: During the post-launch press conference last night Boeing officials revealed that, though the final burn to get Boeing’s Starliner capsule into orbit using its own thrusters succeeded, the thrusters did not function as planned.

Boeing Vice President Mark Nappi said a Starliner thruster failed after firing for one second as the spacecraft made a burn to enter orbit after separating from its Atlas V launch vehicle. The flight software switched to a second thruster, which fired for 25 seconds before shutting down prematurely. A third thruster took over and completed the firing, Nappi said.

The thrusters were made by Aerojet Rocketdyne, which also made the valves that did not work in the previous launch attempt in the summer of 2021. Whether the two problems are related is not known at this time.

A NASA official also noted that a cooling unit on the spacecraft operated “sluggishly during ascent,” but began working correctly once in orbit.

Right now NASA and Boeing are planning to proceed with the docking on ISS tonight at 7:10 pm (Eastern). It appears that though two thrusters have failed, they have ten more thrusters that can be used for further maneuvers throughout the mission. Furthermore, these thrusters are not used during the actual rendezvous and docking.

The live stream of the docking goes live at 3:30 pm (Eastern), and is embedded below. Until then enjoy NASA propaganda, some of it might be of interest.

Update: NASA has cut off coverage of the docking on the channel I had embedded previously. I have now embedded an active live feed.

» Read more

ULA’s Atlas-5 rocket successfully launches Starliner into orbit

Atlas-5 immediately after lift-off
Screen capture just after lift-off

Capitalism in space: ULA’s Atlas-5 rocket today successfully launched Boeing’s manned Starliner capsule into orbit on its second attempt to complete an unmanned demo mission to ISS.

The capsule having been deployed by the rocket then followed with a final burn using the capsule’s own engines to get into its proper orbit for rendezvous with ISS tomorrow at 7:10 pm (Eastern). It was during this rendezvous period that Starliner had its problems in the first demo mission in December 2019 that caused the mission to be aborted prior to docking. Hopefully those software issues have been solved and all will go well through tomorrow.

It is interesting to compare the operation and equipment of Boeing/ULA vs SpaceX. While SpaceX has aimed for a sleek look, Boeing/ULA both retain the industrial feel of past rocketry. Neither is wrong, but the difference highlights the consequences of having competing operations. You get variety.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

21 SpaceX
15 China
7 Russia
3 Rocket Lab
3 ULA

American private enterprise now leads China 30 to 15 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 30 to 25.

NASA bans American spacewalks on ISS because of chronic spacesuit issues

NASA's failed spacesuit
NASA’s failed Moon spacesuits

Because of repeated water leaks in the helmets of NASA’s complex spacesuits and the agency’s inability to fix the problem, agency managers have to decided to cease all American spacewalks on ISS until engineers can definitively solve the problem.

The problem first occurred during a 2013 spacewalk, causing a major investigation. Though engineers managed to gain some control over the problem, it was never truly solved. In the most recent spacewalk on March 23rd, astronauts found water inside one helmet after the walk was over. That suit will now be returned to Earth for inspection and engineering work.

This suspension of spacewalks likely delays four spacewalks planned this year to complete the upgrade to the station’s power system.

Meanwhile, NASA’s own program to build new spacesuits for its lunar missions has been an utter failure — costing more than a billion dollars over fourteen years and producing nothing — thus forcing the agency to turn to the private sector to get new suits.

Study: Russian astronauts on ISS have better techniques for protecting the brain

According to a study comparing the changes in the brain experienced during long term missions on ISS, it appears that the Russians have developed better protocols for preparing themselves for return to Earth that prevents the enlargement in one part of the brain seen in American astronauts.

From the link:

The study focused on 24 Americans, 13 Russians, and a small, unspecified number of astronauts from the ESA. The researchers collected MRI scans of the astronauts’ brains before and after they spent six months on the ISS (only 256 individuals have visited the space station).

After being in space, all the space travelers exhibited similar brain changes: cerebrospinal fluid buildup and reduced space between the brain and the surrounding membrane at the top of the head. The Americans, however, also had more enlargement in the regions of the brain that serve as a cleaning system during sleep, e.g. the perivascular space (PVS).

…The Russian astronauts did not exhibit enlarged PVS, suggesting there might be differences in protocol that are neuro-protective.

From the paper itself:

[Russian C]osmonauts undergo six lower body negative pressure (LBNP) sessions starting two weeks prior to landing, while NASA and ESA astronauts do not typically do it. LBNP induces caudal displacement of fluids from the upper body by placing the legs and pelvis in a semiairtight chamber with negative pressure.

An advanced resistive exercise device (ARED) is regularly used by space flyers to perform free weight exercises on the ISS, but the load and frequency of use are lower for [Russian] cosmonauts compared with NASA and ESA astronauts. Lifting heavy loads during resistive exercise is often accompanied by a brief Valsalva maneuver, inducing increased ICP and decreased cerebral blood flow and cerebrovascular transmural pressure, which can result in PVS fluid accumulation. Although the effects of LBNP and ARED on the brain during spaceflight are unknown, they could partly explain the different WM-PVS changes detected in astronauts and cosmonauts. We cannot exclude that other factors (e.g., diet) might play a role in this difference. Further studies are required to confirm these hypotheses.

Apparently two protocols are different that seem to help the Russians. First, the LBNP, developed by the Russians on their earlier space stations, is essentially a pair of pants that sucks fluids down to the legs, simulating the situation normally found on Earth, and thus reduces the fluids in the upper body sooner than landing. Second, doing exercises simulating lower weight loads apparently helps the Russians as well.

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
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Berger: The media should ignore Rogozin

Eric Berger today beat me to the punch with a very cogent op-ed outlining how the press is consistently being fooled by the head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, by reporting what he says without really understanding any of the larger context.

It happened again this weekend. Both Bloomberg and Axios reported that Russia is quitting the International Space Station due to sanctions imposed by the United States on Russia. Each of these stories garnered considerable attention. And each of these stories was also wrong.

…Specifically, this is what Rogozin said on state television this weekend: “The decision has been taken already, we’re not obliged to talk about it publicly. I can say this only—in accordance with our obligations, we’ll inform our partners about the end of our work on the ISS with a year’s notice.”

This may sound ominous, but that is the wrong interpretation of Rogozin’s words. There is actually some positive news in there, with Rogozin saying Russia will give NASA and its other partners a full year’s notice before departing. This is more than enough time for NASA and its commercial partners, Northrop Grumman, SpaceX, and Boeing, to work together to salvage the larger Western segment of the space station.

Rogozin’s most recent comments are even more positive than his comments in early March, when he threatened to break off the ISS partnership by the end of the month.

The ignorance of both the Bloomberg and Axios reports were amplified in that they were reporting nothing new, as Rogozin had essentially revealed this decision three weeks earlier.

The bottom line is that Russia is facing the death of its space program. It doesn’t have the cash to finance its own space station, and it has no one else to fly with. China says it will be glad to work with Russia on its Tiangong station, but it isn’t going to put out one dime to help pay for Russian efforts. Nor will the future American private stations.

Thus, most of what Rogozin says is bluster, not to be taken too seriously. Russia is going to stay with ISS for at least the next two years, and if it eventually decides to continue the partnership through ’30 it will be no surprise.

Axiom signs deal with the UAE to fly one astronaut to ISS in ’23

Capitalism in space: Axiom announced today that it has signed an agreement with the United Arab Emirate (UAE) to fly a UAE astronaut to ISS in ’23 for a six month mission.

Axiom was able to put its own passenger on this flight because of a complex deal with NASA that had Axiom act as the go-between for Mark Vande Hei’s launch on a Soyuz in April ’21. Axiom brought the flight for NASA (which didn’t have the funds), and got in exchange a free seat for a passenger on a later American launch. Axiom has now sold that seat to the UAE.

The UAE in turn solidifies its space effort, with a six month manned mission to ISS.

The deal also demonstrates the priceless value of leaving ownership to American companies. Axiom made this deal to sell globally its long term space station plans, and it will use a SpaceX Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket to launch it. Both companies thus make money on their products, instead of the cash going to NASA. Such profits will only encourage further sales, not only to these companies but to other competing American rocket and space station companies.

SpaceX’s Freedom spacecraft docks with ISS

Capitalism in space: As planned SpaceX’s Freedom capsule successfully docked with ISS last night, delivering four NASA astronauts to ISS for a five-month mission.

This launch was the sixth manned flight to ISS by SpaceX, and the seventh overall, with two of those seven launches entirely commercial and paid for by private customers. It appears that, based on already announced plans, that ratio between government and private customers should continue during the next few years, though beyond that expect the private launches to eventually outpace the government ones. When that begins to happen SpaceX might decide to expand its fleet from the four capsules (Endeavour, Resilience, Endurance, and Freedom) it presently operates.

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 ULA
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.

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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.

Axiom again cancels return of manned mission due to weather

Capitalism in space: Because of continuing poor weather on Earth, SpaceX & Axiom once again canceled the planned return of manned mission yesterday.

At the moment there is no word on when SpaceX’s Endeavour capsule will undock and bring its passengers home. Since a NASA crew is preparing for launch on Saturday, April 23rd, we should expect that return to occur beforehand.

This article from Israel about the delay, which also focuses on the flight of Israeli businessman Eytan Stibbe, had this interesting tidbit:

Businessmen Stibbe, American Larry Connor of Ohio, and Canadian Mark Pathy have paid $55 million apiece for the rocket ride. The visitors’ tickets include access to all but the Russian portion of the space station. [emphasis mine]

When the Russians launched Dennis Tito and other tourists in 2000s, I am unsure if those tourists were allowed in the American portion of the station. My guess would be yes, but that would be a guess, and very easily wrong. During the two tourist flights to ISS in October and December it is also unclear if those passengers had access to the American half. Considering the competition for tourist flights that now exists, I would suspect no.

Return of first Axiom commercial crew from ISS delayed

Capitalism in space: Because of iffy weather at their planned splashdown point, SpaceX and Axiom have delayed the return of Axiom’s first commercial crew at ISS so that they will splashdown tomorrow.

Weather permitting, the four-member private astronaut crew now is targeted to undock at about 10 p.m. Tuesday, April 19, to begin the journey home with splashdown off the coast of Florida no earlier than approximately 3:24 p.m. EDT Wednesday, April 20.

If weather remains an issue, the return to Earth of Endeavour could be delayed further.

Boeing and NASA set May 19th for second Starliner unmanned demo launch

NASA yesterday announced May 19th as the new launch date for Boeing’s second attempt to complete the first unmanned Starliner demo mission to ISS.

The uncrewed mission will test the end-to-end capabilities of the Starliner spacecraft and Atlas V rocket from launch to docking and return to Earth at one of five designated landing zones in the western United States. Following a successful completion of the OFT-2 mission, NASA and Boeing will determine a launch window for NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test (CFT), Starliner’s first flight with astronauts aboard.

The first unmanned demo flight in December 2019 failed to dock with ISS and had to be cut short due to serious software issues. The launch of the second unmanned demo flight was scrubbed mere hours before launch in August of 2021 due to serious valve issues.

Thus, Boeing’s manned capsule is more than two years behind schedule. Not only has Boeing had to pay more than $400 million for a second demo mission, the delays have caused a lot of business with NASA and with tourists to instead go to SpaceX. Hopefully, the company has finally fixed all issues and will succeed and begin manned operations later this year.

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