Tag Archives: ISS

Boeing sets Dec 17 for launch of unmanned Starliner

Capitalism in space: Boeing officials today announced that they are targeting December 17 as the date they will launch their Starliner capsule to ISS for its first unmanned demo flight.

The article also says they are have set November 4 for their pad abort test of the capsule.

If both are completed successfully they will be ready for their manned demo launch to ISS.

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UAE astronaut completes telecast to UAE

The new colonial movement: The first astronaut from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) yesterday completed his fifth day in orbit on ISS, answering questions from students during two telecasts.

The goal from the start for this mission was to encourage a new space agency in the UAE, thus diversifying its economy. These telecasts are clearly aimed at doing that.

His flight is about half over.

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Russia to reduce manned missions to ISS in 2020

According to a Roscosmos, Russia will halve the number of manned Soyuz missions it will fly to ISS in 2020, from the normal four per year that they have been doing since 2009 to only two.

The article provides little additional detail, other than those two flights will be in the second and fourth quarters of the year, and that there will be three Progress freighter launches as well.

In May the Russians had announced that NASA had agreed to buy two more astronaut tickets on Soyuz. Since then there have been two manned launches, one of which I think was covered by this purchase. If not, then both launches next year are to launch Americans to ISS, and that Russia will not launch otherwise.

Either way this information tells us two things. First, NASA is probably getting very close to finally approving the manned flights of Dragon and Starliner, after many delays by their safety panel.

Second, Russia’s reduction in launches suggests that they are short of funds, and can’t launch often without someone buying a ticket. It is unclear what they will do when the U.S. is no longer a customer. I suspect they will fly the minimum number of crew in the fewest flights while still allowing them to maintain their portion of the station. Periodically they will likely add a flight, when they sell a ticket to either a tourist or to another foreign country, as they are doing right now with an Soyuz-flown astronaut from the United Arab Emirates.

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Three launches today, including launch of three astronauts and UAE’s first spaceman

Three launches today, by China, Japan, and Russia. China launched a Yunhai-1 weather satellite using its Long March 2D rocket. Japan in turn successfully launched, on its second attempt, its HTV cargo freighter to ISS. This was Japan’s second launch this year.

Finally, Russia has just successfully put three astronauts into orbit using its Soyuz rocket, including the first astronaut of the United Arab Emirates.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

18 China
15 Russia
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S. lead over China in the national rankings is now 19 to 18.

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Mitsubishi IDs cause of launchpad fire, reschedules launch

Mitsubishi, the Japanese company that builds the H-2B rocket for Japan’s space agency JAXA, has identified the cause of the dramatic launchpad fire that broke out only about three hours before the launch of their HTV unmanned ISS cargo freighter.

MHI announced Friday that officials believe the fire started near an “exit hole” on the mobile launch platform. Investigators believe the blaze was most likely caused by static electricity, and exacerbated by a flammable oxygen-rich environment inside the mobile launch platform.

Low winds at Tanegashima during the Sept. 10 countdown allowed oxygen vapors to build up at the launch pad in higher concentrations than previous countdowns, officials said. Super-cold oxygen is used as an oxidizer in both stages of the H-2B rocket, and also flows through the first stage’s twin LE-7A main engines during pre-launch “chilldown” conditioning procedures.

“As a result of the investigation, it was confirmed that there was a high possibility that the fire spread due to the static electricity generated by the oxygen dripping from the engine exhaust port during the propellant filling operation, which continued to blow on the heat-resistant material in the exit hole at the movable launch pad,” MHI said in a statement. “We have taken corrective measures and have confirmed normal functioning of the rocket and facility,” MHI said.

They have rescheduled the launch for September 26. Initially they were aiming for September 24, but rescheduled because there might be an orbital conflict between their rocket’s second stage and the launch of a Soyuz to ISS that same day.

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Bridenstine will ask Russia for explanation about drill hole

NASA’s administrator Jim Bridenstine, when asked by journalists about the decision by Russia to keep secret the origins of the drill hole in a Soyuz capsule that caused a leak on ISS, said he will politely beg Russia for some answers.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine vowed Thursday to speak to the head of the Russian space agency after reports that the cause of a hole found on the International Space Station last year would be kept secret.

But he was careful to point out that he doesn’t want this situation to destroy the country’s relationship with Russia, a partner in space since 1975. “They have not told me anything,” Bridenstine told the Houston Chronicle during a question and answer session at a Houston energy conference. “I don’t want to let one item set (the relationship) back, but it is clearly not acceptable that there are holes in the International Space Station.”

Sure, let’s not offend those Russians so we can keep flying Americans on their capsules, even though they won’t tell us who drilled a hole in a Soyuz capsule prior to launch, then patched it badly so that it began leaking after a few months in space.

This kind of logic could only make sense in Washington government circles.

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Problems fixed with next Russian ISS module

According to a report from Russia today, the problems with contamination in the fuel tanks for Russia’s next module to ISS, originally scheduled for launch in 2013, have finally been dealt with, and the launch can go forward.

“Original tanks will be used. They had successfully undergone all trials, all problems with them have been fixed. We are now receiving relevant documents,” one of the sources told TASS. He said the module is currently at the Khrunichev center, and the timeframe of finishing touches to it is now being coordinated.

Another source in the industry told TASS that although Nauka tanks were initially designed for multiple use, “they will be used only once – for the module’s docking with the space station.”

In other words, they weighed their options, and decided that limiting the tanks to only one use was better than trying to replace them. I suspect this is because the replacement was both very difficult and would have also delayed the launch so much that ISS might not have been orbit any longer.

A new launch date has not been announced. Previously Roscosmos had indicated 2020 as the date.

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Roscosmos knows but will not disclose cause of Soyuz drilled hole

According to a statement by Dmitri Rogozin, the head of Roscosmos, the Russians now know what or who caused the drillhole in a Soyuz capsule, found when air began to leak from ISS in August 2018, but they will not reveal that information.

What happened is clear to us, but we won’t tell you anything”, Rogozin said at a meeting with the participants of a scientific youth conference. … We may have some secrets”, he said.

I wonder if NASA will accept this decision. I also wonder why this doesn’t raise the hackles of NASA’s safety panel, which seems so willing to stall the launch of American manned capsules for far less worrisome safety reasons, thus forcing us to use Russia’s Soyuz capsule instead.

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UAE’s first manned flight launches this week on Soyuz

This article provides a nice detailed Arab perspective on the upcoming September 25 launch of the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) first manned mission, sending one of their jet fighter pilots on a Soyuz to ISS for about a week.

The article not only also reviews the entire history of past Arab astronaut missions in space, the first on an American shuttle in 1985 and the second on a Soyuz in 1987, it summarizes the present-day space-related efforts throughout the Arab world, not just in the UAE. Good information in advance of this week’s upcoming launch.

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Video of the Japanese launchpad fire

I have embedded below the fold the video of the launchpad fire on September 10 that forced Japan to scrub the launch of its H-2B rocket carrying its HTV unmanned cargo freighter to ISS.

I set up the video to start just prior to the appearance of the fire, at 10 minutes in. Its appearance is quite dramatic. The video then continues for about twenty more minutes, showing the fire-fighting effort that brings the fire under control.

Japan’s space agency JAXA has still not released any further information about what caused the fire, the damage, or when they might reschedule the launch.
» Read more

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Japan scrubs launch due to launchpad fire

Japan today scrubbed the launch of its unmanned HTV cargo freighter to ISS due to a launchpad fire that broke out only three and half hours before liftoff.

There is as yet no word on the cause of the fire, or how much damage it caused. Nor have they said anything about rescheduling the launch.

This would have been Japan’s second launch in 2019, a drop from the average of 4 to 6 in the last five years.

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ISS partners okay Trump changes to Gateway

The various international nations that partner on ISS and wish to partner on NASA’s Gateway project issued a statement this week saying that they approve the changes imposed on that lunar space station by the Trump administration, all of which significantly delay their participation.

In an Aug. 28 statement, members of the station’s Multilateral Coordination Board (MCB), which includes the five space agencies involved in the ISS, said the Gateway is “a critical next step” in human space exploration and that they plan to contribute modules or other elements for the facility in lunar orbit.

“Looking to exploration activities beyond LEO, the MCB members reaffirmed their continued intention to cooperate on a human outpost in the lunar vicinity – Gateway,” the document, a summary of the board’s Aug. 6 meeting, stated. “Within a broader open architecture for human exploration, the MCB acknowledged the Gateway as a critical next step.”

The board offered a similar endorsement of the Gateway at a March 5 meeting. The statement from that meeting included a diagram of one Gateway configuration, with contributions from Canada, Europe, Japan and Russia, as well as the United States, identified.

Three weeks after that meeting, though, Vice President Mike Pence announced at a meeting of the National Space Council that the U.S. would speed up its lunar exploration timeline, seeking to land astronauts on the moon by 2024, rather than prior plans for a 2028 landing. NASA subsequently said that it would initially pursue a minimal Gateway needed for that 2024 landing, deferring full-fledged development of the Gateway for a second phase intended to enable “sustainable” lunar exploration in the second half of the 2020s. [emphasis mine]

The “minimal Gateway” that the Trump administration is presently pursuing is structured to shift focus from a space station in lunar orbit to landing on the Moon. This means that many of the later components of Gateway, to be built or used by these international partners, will be significantly delayed, or even made unnecessary.

So, why did these space agencies all endorse the new plan that circumscribed their participation? They have no choice. Without NASA’s SLS, they have no way to get to the Moon. And without Gateway, SLS has no reason to exist. These government space agencies need SLS (as ephemeral as SLS might be) because it is the only free government launch option available to them. They hope, by endorsing what the Trump administration has done, to convince it to go along with the complete Gateway project, including the continued funding of SLS, thus creating a gigantic international boondoggle (paid for mostly by the U.S.) that will justify all their manned space programs.

This is another reason to dump SLS. Wouldn’t it be better for the U.S. to have its private commercial space launch industry sell its goods to these leeches, rather than have them living off our taxpayers’ dime? We will gain nothing from them with Gateway, as it is presently structured, while they feed off of us. If instead they needed to buy launch services from private rockets, the profits would accrue to U.S. companies and citizens, and help encourage competition and more innovation.

If we instead buy into this international boondoggle, we will spend a lot of money for very little space exploration, even as we make the bureaucrats at six government space agencies (including NASA) very happy.

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ISS atmosphere issue?

Though NASA and Roscosmos both say the crews are in no immediate danger, alarms on ISS have indicated an issue with the oxygen levels on the station.

“The crew and the space station are in no immediate danger and are continuing normal operations,” the spokesperson said. “The overall atmosphere inside the station remains will below the O2 concentration limits. Teams are working to identify the root cause of the issue,” he added.

This report states that the problem is “the high oxygen content in the air in the Russian Zvezda module.”

If the problem was a drop in atmospheric pressure, the issue would likely be more serious, and suggest a repeat of the 2018 leak caused by a hole drilled in a Soyuz capsule. That the problem instead is high oxygen levels, suggests something more benign.

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Soyuz successfully docks to ISS on second attempt

An unmanned Soyuz capsule successfully docked to ISS tonight at a different docking port than the port where a failed component in the radar system caused the first attempt to be aborted two days ago.

This successful automatic docking confirms that the radar equipment on the other port was the problem. While manual manned dockings can occur there, the Russians will not be able to use it for unmanned Progress freighters until they get the faulty amplifier in the radar system fixed. To fix it will require a spare part and a spacewalk, and at the moment the Russians have said nothing about whether they have the part at the station.

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Russian astronauts move older Soyuz to clear port for new Soyuz

Russian astronauts today undocked their older Soyuz MS-13 Soyuz from its docking port and manually docked it to the port with the technical issue, thereby clearing a different but functioning port for the unmanned Soyuz MS-14 capsule that failed to dock last week.

From the report it sounds like the Russians also did a test during the manual docking of the problematic docking radar on the older port, but no information about this has been released.

The unmanned MS-14 Soyuz will now make its second automatic docking attempt tomorrow, using the the cleared port.

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Unmanned test Soyuz aborts docking to ISS

Astronauts on ISS were forced to abort the docking of an unmanned upgraded Soyuz capsule today when it appeared to have problems locking onto its docking port.

According to NASA, Soyuz MS-14 entered an orbit above and behind the ISS, which would bring the spacecraft back into the vicinity of the outpost 24 hours later. However within an hour after the failed docking, the mission control in Korolev told the ISS crew that the next docking attempt would not be made until at least August 26 after a series of tests. Head of flight operations in Korolev Vladimir Soloviev informed the cosmonauts that ground specialists had narrowed down a potential root cause of the failure during docking to a “bad signal amplifier” in the Kurs-P avionics system aboard the station. Soloviev instructed the crew to swap the suspected amplifier for a new one and then conduct a test of the Kurs-P system. Provided the ongoing analysis confirmed the initial failure scenario and the in-orbit tests went successfully, another rendezvous attempt could be made in around 48 hours, between 08:00 and 09:00 Moscow Time on August 26. Soloviev asked the crew members whether they knew where the components in question had been located to which the cosmonauts said that they had remembered it approximately but asked for reference photos to be sent to them.

Assuming this is the same docking port the Russians have used for previous Soyuz and Progress dockings, the amplifier would have had to fail since the last docking.

UPDATE: It appears that they are instead going to use a different Russian docking port on ISS for the second docking attempt, thereby bypassing the suspect docking system.

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Goddard engineers complete third robotic refueling test on ISS

Goddard engineers have successfully completed their third robotic refueling test on ISS, using the Canadian dual robot arm Dextre.

The operation were controlled from Goddard, using a variety of robots to view, inspect, and complete the operations remotely. The goal is to demonstrate robotic engineering that can later be used to repair and service a variety of already orbiting satellites.

One detailed mentioned at the very end of the article I thought very significant and did not involve robotic refueling: It appears this project also

…successfully stored liquid methane for four months with zero boil off, demonstrating a system which will dramatically lower fluid loss and eliminate the need for oversized tanks and extra propellant.

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NASA extends life of private BEAM module

Capitalism in space: Having found that Bigelow’s privately built ISS module BEAM has exceeded its design capabilities, NASA has now decided to leave it docked to ISS for at least five more years, using it as a storage bin.

BEAM cost NASA a whopping $17 million, considerably less than it has traditionally spent (a billion-plus) for its previous ISS modules, designed and built under full NASA supervision.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Russia launches and docks new Progress freighter to ISS

Russia today launched and quickly docked a new Progress freighter, to ISS, with the trip taking slightly over three hours.

I think this might have been the fastest flight to ISS, though if not it is certainly among the fastest.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

11 China
11 Russia
9 SpaceX
5 Europe (Arianespace)
4 India

The U.S. continues to lead in the national rankings, 15-11.

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Soyuz launches new crew to ISS

The Russians today launched and docked a new crew to ISS using their Soyuz rocket and capsule.

This launch puts Russia ahead of SpaceX in the 2019 launch race, the first time Russia has been ahead of SpaceX in almost two years. It also puts Russia in a tie with China for the lead, also something that has not been the case in two years. The leaders:

9 China
9 Russia
8 SpaceX
5 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S. still leads 14-9 over China and Russia in the national rankings.

Posted from the south rim of the Grand Canyon after our hike out today.

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Faking gravity in space with a spinning table

Researchers at the University of Colorado in Boulder are experimenting with the use of a rotating table to give space-farers short doses of artificial gravity in order to mitigate the negative consequences of weightlessness.

In a series of recent studies, the pair and their colleagues set out to investigate whether queasiness is really the price of admission for artificial gravity. In other words, could astronauts train their bodies to tolerate the strain that comes from being spun around in circles like hamsters in a wheel?

The team began by recruiting a group of volunteers and tested them on the centrifuge across 10 sessions.

But unlike most earlier studies, the CU Boulder researchers took things slow. They first spun their subjects at just one rotation per minute, and only increased the speed once each recruit was no longer experiencing the cross-coupled illusion. “I present at a conference and everyone says, ‘she’s the one who spins people and makes them sick,'” Bretl said. “But we try to avoid instances of motion sickness because the whole point of our research is to make it tolerable.”

The personalized approach worked. By the end of 10th session, the study subjects were all spinning comfortably, without feeling any illusion, at an average speed of about 17 rotations per minute. That’s much faster than any previous research had been able to achieve.

The idea is that you could install this rotating table on a interplanetary ship, and have its occupants periodically spend time on it to get their daily dose of gravity. This way you would not have to build a giant spinning spaceship.

The research has potential. The one question that remains unanswered and is probably central to this concept is how little gravity is needed to avoid the problems of weightlessness. Right now, we do not know. It could be for example that 30 minutes at 1/10 g could do the job. Or maybe 1 g for 2 hours. If the former the engineering challenges become minor. If the latter the problems are more difficult.

I am aware of only one centrifuge experiment ever done in weightlessness, on a Russian space station. They rotated a plant at a very tiny percentage of g’s and found it might help plants prosper in space. The data point however is too small, with no followup. This is the kind of research that should be going on on ISS, and is not.

Hat tip Marcus A.

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Update on planned Russian additions to ISS

Link here. The article describes present status of Russia’s new modules to ISS, along with their tentative launch dates in the early 2020s.

We should not take these dates too seriously. Russia is literally decades behind schedule in launching this stuff. Whether they can finally get them in orbit now, with their present shortage in cash, remains unknown.

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Mold in space can tolerate very high doses of radiation

New research has discovered that the mold found on the International Space Station is able to tolerate very high doses of radiation.

Spores of the two most common types of mold on the ISS, Aspergillus and Pennicillium, survive X-ray exposure at 200 times the dose that would kill a human, according to Marta Cortesão, a microbiologist at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Cologne, who will present the new research Friday at the 2019 Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon 2019).

Pennicillium and Aspergillus species are not usually harmful, but inhaling their spores in large amounts can sicken people with weakened immune systems. Mold spores can withstand extreme temperatures, ultraviolet light, chemicals and dry conditions. This resiliency makes them hard to kill.

“We now know that [fungal spores] resist radiation much more than we thought they would, to the point where we need to take them into consideration when we are cleaning spacecraft, inside and outside,” Cortesao said. “If we’re planning a long duration mission, we can plan on having these mold spores with us because probably they will survive the space travel.”

While these findings likely mean an increase in the cost for sterilizing future planetary probes, they also mean that fungi will be available for future space travelers for the production of antibiotics, food, and other useful items.

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Soyuz has problem during return to Earth

In returning three astronauts safely to Earth yesterday from ISS the Soyuz spacecraft experienced a technical problem immediately after its engines had fired, causing it to go to a backup system.

Moments after the completion of the braking maneuver, the emergency signal was heard inside the Descent Module and the communications between the crew and mission control discussed a failure of the first manifold in the integrated propulsion system of the Soyuz spacecraft and the switch to the second manifold. Kononenko first reported K1B (Manifold DPO-B) emergency at 05:02:54 Moscow Time and subsequently confirmed a switch to the second manifold. NASA later confirmed the problem, but did not provide any details.

There is no explanation what the “first manifold” is, though I suspect it is a direct translation from Russian for their term for a primary system. That the system automatically switched to its back-up is a good thing. That there was a failure of the primary system is not.

Once again, this raises more questions about the quality control throughout Russia’s aerospace industry. While so far none of the recent Soyuz problems, which have also included a launch abort and a still-unexplained drilled hole, have caused a loss of life. I fear that soon or later they will.

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SpaceX reschedules manned Dragon demo flight to November

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has now apparently rescheduled its first manned Dragon demo flight to ISS to no earlier than November 1, 2019.

The information comes from a SpaceX application with the FCC, listing the launch window as sometime between November 1, 2019 and April 30, 2020.

This now gives us the time frame when both NASA and SpaceX expect to complete their investigation into the Dragon test explosion in March as well as institute changes as a result. It also suggests they now have a much better idea what happened and what they need to do, thus allowing them to create this time frame.

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Bigelow announces four tourist bookings to ISS using Dragon

Capitalism in space: The private space station company Bigelow Aerospace announced yesterday that it has booked four tourists to spend from one to two months on ISS.

The bookings will fly to ISS using SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule. Though the company did not say how much these tourists have agreed to pay, it said that it intends to charge $52 million per ticket.

This announcement follows directly from NASA’s announcement last week that it will allow commercial tourist flights to ISS. Previously Bigelow had said it would fly tourists to its own space station using Boeing’s Starliner capsule. Now it is going to take advantage of NASA’s new policy to send the tourists to ISS, and it will use Dragon, probably because Dragon is closer to becoming operational.

I also suspect that Bigelow’s long term plans are to add its own hotel modules to ISS for these flights, and then later follow-up by building its own independent space station.

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White House to allow ISS commercialization, including tourists

Capitalism in space: The White House today released an interim proposal [pdf] that would allow private enterprise on ISS, including allowing American private companies to fly tourists to the station.

A new interim directive from NASA allows private companies to buy time and space on the ISS for producing, marketing, or testing their products. It also allows those companies to use resources on the ISS for commercial purposes, even making use of NASA astronauts’ time and expertise (but not their likeness). If companies want, they can even send their own astronauts to the ISS, starting as early as 2020, but all of these activities come with a hefty price tag.

This fits with the Trump administration’s overall push to shift the American space effort from a NASA “program” to an independent and profitable American space industry.

Will this work? I cannot see how it can’t. At a minimum, it will tell us if there really is a viable market for space tourism and industry on the space station.

For the Russians this is another disaster. They had planned to sell the available seats on their Soyuz, no longer used by NASA astronauts, to tourists. It is very likely that business will shift to the U.S. manned capsules being built by SpaceX and Boeing.

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