Leak on ISS located?

According to Business Insider article , engineers have finally narrowed the location of the slow leak on ISS to the Russian Zvezda module.

NASA and Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, had already narrowed down the likely location of the leak to several modules on the station’s Russian side.

So astronaut Chris Cassidy and cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner tested those modules by shutting the hatches between each one and using an ultrasonic leak detector to collect data through the night. The tool measures noise caused by airflow too quiet for humans to hear.

By Tuesday morning, they’d figured out that the leak is in the Zvezda Service Module, the main module on the station’s Russian side. Zvezda provides that half of the station with oxygen and drinkable water, and it’s also equipped with a machine that scrubs carbon dioxide from the air. The module contains the section’s sleeping quarters, dining room, refrigerator, freezer, and bathroom.

They don’t yet know where in the module the leak is located, but at least they know at last where to look.

This module was the second module launched to ISS, launching in 2000. Thus, the leak could not have come from any construction workers from the ground. More likely its age has resulted in something changing. This needs to be fixed, but at the moment the situation is not critical.

ISS air leak still unlocated

The small air leak that was found on ISS a year ago has still not been located, despite a second weekend where the crew isolated themselves in one module and closed the hatches on all other modules so that ground engineers could track any air supply changes.

At a Sept. 28 briefing about the upcoming Northrop Grumman NG-14 Cygnus cargo mission to the station, a NASA official said that the weekend isolation in the Zvezda module failed to immediately locate the source of the leak. “As of this morning, there was no clear indication of where the leak is,” said Greg Dorth, manager of the ISS Program External Integration Office at NASA. “The teams are still looking at the data and evaluating it.”

This was the second time the ISS crew confined themselves to Zvezda in an effort to track down the leak. A month earlier, the three also spent a weekend in Zvezda with the other modules sealed off in an effort to locate the leak. “After the three days, there was no indication of where the leak was coming from,” Dorth said.

This latest test, he said, featured some “slightly different configurations” in both the U.S. and Russian segments, although he did not elaborate on the differences between the two tests. In addition, Cassidy used an ultrasonic leak detector to see if the leak was coming from Zvezda itself.

These tests were possible since mid-August because there were only three people on station, allowing them to be confined to one module for a period of time. Moreover, during this time no other spacecraft have arrived or left. It is suspected that the leak is most likely coming from the connection point between two modules, and adding or removing a Soyuz, Dragon, or freighter to the station shifts its center of gravity, changing the stress points at those connections.

China and Russia launch a bunch of satellites

Russia today used its Soyuz-2 rocket to launch three communication satellites plus 19 commercial smallsats.

This was the first time Russia used the Soyuz-2 for these particular small communications satellites, as previously they had been launched by a variety of smaller rockets.

China in turn today used its Long March 4B to place two Earth resource satellites into orbit.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

25 China
15 SpaceX
10 Russia
4 ULA
4 Europe (Arianespace)

China has moved ahead of the U.S. 25 to 24 in the national rankings.

These numbers should change again in the next few days. The U.S. has had a number of scrubs and launch delays in the past few days. ULA has been repeatedly pushing back the previously delayed launch of a National Security Agency reconnaissance satellite due to a variety of problems related to its Delta 4 Heavy rocket. The launch is now set for just after midnight tonight (Monday night). [UPDATE: Launch scrubbed due to lightning and poor weather. Tentatively rescheduled for 11:58 pm (Eastern) on September 29.]

SpaceX meanwhile had to scrub a launch this morning (September 28) of another 60 Starlink satellites due to weather. No new launch date has yet been announced.

Northrop Grumman also has had to scrub tomorrow’s Antares launch of a Cygnus cargo freighter because of poor weather at Wallops Island. It is now set for the evening of October 1st.

SpaceX also has a scheduled launch tomorrow morning of a GPS satellite on its Falcon 9 rocket. This is also threatened by weather. There is also no word whether the ULA launch scrub will cause this launch to be delayed.

Leak hunt continues on ISS

Two stories today indicate that the search for the elusive source of the slow leak on ISS is continuing.

The problem is that the two stories appear to have no overlap, making it hard to figure out what is planned and why.

The first story describes how engineers, based on the first isolation test, now think the leak must be coming from one of two modules:

…the ones the crew didn’t test because they were inside them while monitoring the rest of the station. One is the Zvezda Service Module, which provides life support for the station’s Russian side. The other is the Poisk Mini-Research Module 2, which serves as a port for docking spaceships and a place where crew members prepare for spacewalks.

The second story, from the Russian press, does not mention this detail. All it says is that the astronauts are going to once again isolate themselves in “the Russian segment” so the rest of the station can be tested for leaks. Since the two modules in question are both in that Russian segment, it is unclear where the astronauts will be isolated, especially since Zvezda is also where the Soyuz descent capsule is docked and if sealed from astronaut access it also seals them from their lifeboat.

It could be that the plan is to do another test of the American side of the station, then do these two Russian modules after the arrival of the next manned Dragon mission in a little less than a month. Dragon can then replace Soyuz as a lifeboat, allowing a test of Zvezda.

Regardless, the leak is a slow one, and is not yet life-threatening. That the leak rate has recently increased however requires action to find and fix it.

OneWeb announces new launch schedule, cancels Ariane 6 launch

Capitalism in space: OneWeb, as it restructures itself after its purchase by a partnership of an Indian company and the UK government, has announced a new launch schedule for completing its satellite communications constellation by 2022, with the first launch in December.

The key change is that they have cancelled their deal to fly OneWeb satellites on the first launch of Arianespace’s Ariane 6 rocket. From the first link:

Arianespace will conduct 16 Soyuz launches for OneWeb, each carrying 34-36 satellites, to complete OneWeb’s internet megaconstellation by the end of 2022. The revised contract canceled two Soyuz launches, and removed OneWeb as the customer for the inaugural Ariane 6 launch, an Arianespace spokesperson told SpaceNews.

The Ariane 6 cancellation is bad news for Arianespace’s new rocket, which has had trouble garnering customers. I am sure OneWeb was offered a great price to launch some satellites on that inaugural flight, and still OneWeb backed out.

For Russia this announcement is good news, even if they have lost two Soyuz launches. It means the bulk of their Soyuz launches will go forward, pumping money into the Russia’s starving commercial launch industry. This launch contract is essentially the only Russian commercial contract, with SpaceX stealing all of Russia’s former customers, and the bankruptcy had threatened it.

Finally, this announcement shows that OneWeb’s new owners have recognized that they have to get their satellites launched as fast as possible if they are going to compete with SpaceX’s Starlink constellation.

Russia wins spacesuit contract for India’s Gaganyaan manned mission

The new colonial movement: The Russian Zvezda design center in Roscosmos has won the spacesuit contract to build the spacesuits and capsule seats for India’s Gaganyaan manned mission, targeted for a ’22 launch.

It is not surprising that the Russians won this contract. India does not have a lot of time to get the mission off the ground, and needs help. The Russian spacesuits are practical and proven, and are far superior to anything available from NASA. The only other option available at this moment would be the flight suits SpaceX designed for its Dragon missions and flown once. I suspect the Indians want something that has been used and tested more.

Moreover, their astronauts are being trained by the Russians. Better and simpler to have them use the suits the Russians use.

Russia to spend $470 million to restore Sea Launch

The Russian government today revealed that it has agreed to spend $470 million to restore the Sea Launch floating launchpad.

Before Russia took possession the platform had been stripped of much of its equipment, probably as part of the final financial settlement with Boeing, which had once been a part owner (with Russia and the Ukraine). As part of the break-up of the company Russia had had to buy Boeing off (after many lawsuits) to gain full ownership.

As noted by Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov, “It is a unique structure unparalleled in the world. Some have plans for building something similar. It would be very silly of us, if we decided against restoring the Sea Launch and using its services. Technically all this is possible.”

For Russia the platform gives them the potential of a launch site at the equator, something they have never had.

Russia to continue bilateral space negotiations with U.S.

According to one Russian foreign policy official, the Putin government will continue bilateral space negotiations with United States in connection with both its Artemis Accords (designed to encourage private ownership in space) and the military doctrines in space recently set forth by the U.S. Space Force.

The official also made note of a Russian-Chinese agreement related to the use of space, which seems to counter what the Trump administration is pushing with the Artemis Accords. However, the fact that these bilateral agreements and negotiations now exist actually gets the U.S. what it wants, foreign treaties that set out goals and rules that bypass the restrictions of the Outer Space Treaty. Those restrictions make private ownership in space legally questionable. That Russia is willing to continue negotiations with the U.S. means that it might agree eventually to some framework that allows private property in space, in order to remain a partner in the Trump administrations Artemis lunar project.

Nauka finally arrives at launch site, thirteen years late

Russia’s Nauka module for ISS has finally arrived at its launch site at Baikonur, Kazakhstan, to be prepared for its launch, now scheduled for April 2021.

After its arrival and fitting-out, Nauka will become the primary laboratory module on the Russian segment. Currently, Russia has two small laboratory modules – Rassvet and Poisk – both of which will be dwarfed by Nauka. Additionally, Nauka will take the title of the heaviest Russian module on the Station, at 24.2 tons. Zvezda currently holds this honor, at 20.3 tons.

The module is thirteen years later than first planned and has been under construction for more than a quarter century.

Ivashka and Baba-Yaga

A evening pause: An entertaining animated cartoon from Soviet Russia, 1938. It subconsciously reveals much about Russia’s rough society of that time between the world wars. Even in the 1930s Russia was still largely an illiterate peasant culture, less than three generations since the freeing of the serfs and now ruled by Stalin and the communists with an iron hand.

Hat tip Jim Mallamace.

Russia to ship Nauka to Baikonur launch site August 10

Russia now plans to ship its Nauka ISS module to Baikonur on August 10th, three days later than previously planned, where it will begin the final nine months of preparations for launch.

“The stage of electrical tests takes about six months together with preparations because there is a large number of systems. Scheduled operational measures take another three months from this moment to the launch. This involves direct preparations for the launch together with the provision of microbiological protection, fueling and other operations,” he explained.

Nauka will provide the Russians a second toilet on ISS, plus produce oxygen and water (from urine) for six astronauts. It will also become the cabin for a third Russian-flown astronaut, either tourist or professional.

Nauka is a quarter century in the making, its construction having started in 1995. As a government-run project, that pace matches well with SLS, Orion, the James Webb Space Telescope, and many other big government projects not related to space. The goal isn’t to accomplish anything really but to create the justification for fake jobs that can last a lifetime.

Russians sign deal to fly two tourists to ISS

Capitalism in space: Now that their Soyuz capsule is no longer required to fly NASA astronauts to ISS, the Russians have spare seats, and have now signed a deal with Space Adventures to fly two tourists to ISS in late 2021.

They will announce the tourist’s names later this year.

Space Adventures also has a deal with SpaceX to fly two tourists on a Dragon capsule on a week-plus long orbital mission (not docking with ISS). SpaceX also has a deal with the space station company Axiom to fly tourists to ISS. Next year could thus see two or three tourist flights to space.

Isn’t competition wonderful?

Russia’s Proton rocket launches two communication satellites

Russia today successfully launched two communications satellites into orbit using its Proton rocket.

This was the first Proton launch in 2020, after Roscosmos discovered in April problems with three rockets that required them to be sent back to their manufacturer.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

18 China
11 SpaceX
9 Russia
4 ULA
3 Japan

The U.S. still leads China 19-18 in the national rankings.

More indications of the decline of Russia’s space effort

Two stories today give further hints that Russia’s space effort, run under the centralized government control of its space agency Roscosmos, is struggling. Both stories involve comments by the head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, during an interview yesterday to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Putin government’s takeover of Russia’s entire aerospace industry.

First, Rogozin announced that they intend to continue using their Soyuz manned capsule for at least ten more years, even though they are working to develop the Oryol replacement capsule and hope to fly its first unmanned test flight by 2023.

“I am absolutely sure that the Soyuz MS will be exploitable for at least ten years. That is why, during the first years we will use both the Soyuz MS and a new spacecraft,” he said.

Though it makes sense for Russia to fly both spacecraft for a period of time, ten years seems exorbitant. It suggests that Rogozin is covering his behind in case Oryol ends up getting delayed significantly.

Based on Russia’s track record the past twenty years, it is very likely Oryol will not fly by 2023. Since the turn of this century they have been promising new spacecraft and rockets without ever delivering. They have also spent a quarter of a century building one module for ISS. It has become their mode of operations to go slow and not deliver. Rogozin must know this, and is covering his bets by announcing Soyuz that will fly for many more years.

Second, Rogozin made it a point to denigrate the U.S. manned space effort, calling it a “political project” not interested in “helping” its partners. To quote him precisely:
» Read more

In-flight camera analysis of Soyuz launch abort in October 2018

An evening pause: For the geeks who read Behind the Black. Nothing here is new, but the in-flight footage of the first stage as it failed during this manned Soyuz launch on October 11, 2018 is still fun to watch, and it gives us another taste of the continuing quality control problems in Russia’s aerospace industry.

Hat tip Tom Biggar.

As always, I am open to suggestions for my evening pauses. If you’ve sent me stuff in the past, you know the drill. If not and you want to suggest something, post a comment here, without mentioning your suggestion, and I will contact you with the guidelines.

Russia’s next module for ISS passes tests

At last! Russia’s long-delayed next module for ISS, dubbed Nauka, has finally passed its vacuum chamber tests and is now scheduled for shipment to the launch site on July 21 to 23.

Construction of Nauka began in 1995, a quarter of a century ago. For comparison, in the last quarter of the 20th century Russia launched Salyut 1, Salyut 3, Salyut 4, Salyut 5, Salyut 6, Salyut 7, Mir, and its first five modules for ISS. All told those launches involved building and putting into orbit 18 different modules, with 14 comparable to Nauka in size and mass, all built and launched in about the same amount of time it has taken Russia to build Nauka alone.

At this pace it will take centuries for Russia to build its next space station, no less get to the Moon or Mars.

Putin gov’t arrests journalist working as advisor to Roscomsos

The Putin government yesterday arrested Ivan Safronov, a former journalist presently an advisor to that country’s space agency Roscosmos, for passing military secrets to the Czech government back in 2017 when he was employed by a daily newspaper.

It seems the press in Russia is highly skeptical of these charges.

Kommersant [the daily newspaper in which he had worked] put out a statement in support of Safronov, hailing him as one of the country’s top journalists and a “true patriot” who was deeply concerned about the state of the military and space industries that he covered. The newspaper described the accusations against him as “absurd.” The paper noted that rights activists, journalists, scientists and corporate officials who faced treason accusations found it difficult to defend themselves because of secrecy surrounding their cases and lack of public access. “As a result, the public has to rely on the narrative offered by special services, whose work has increasingly raised questions,” Kommersant said. “Journalists asking those questions find themselves under blow.”

About 20 journalists, including those who worked with Safronov for years, were detained outside FSB headquarters in Moscow when they picketed to protest his arrest. Some were handed court summons for violating a ban on street gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic, an offense punishable by an administrative fine.

Many former colleagues of Safronov alleged that the authorities may have wanted to take revenge for his reporting that exposed Russian military incidents and opaque arms trade deals.

It also appears that the charges have nothing to do with Safronov’s work at Roscosmos.

Russia to consider building reusable stages for Angara

Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency that controls that nation’s entire aerospace industry, is “considering” the idea of developing reusable rocket stages for future iterations of its new Angara rocket.

“On June 30, changes were made to the state contract on the ‘Amur’ experimental design work that envisaged upgrading and further developing this series,” the statement says. In particular, the changes envisage developing the Angara-A5M as the upgraded version of the Angara-A5 rocket and the conceptual design of the Angara-A5V increased lifting capacity vehicle (with the oxygen-hydrogen third stage).

“Also, an option will be considered to develop the Angara-A5VM carrier rocket with reusable stages,” Roscosmos specified.

I’ll believe it when I see it. For now almost twenty years the Russians have been very good at issuing bold press releases promising wonderful new rockets, spaceships, and projects, only to have none of these rockets, spaceships, or projects ever actually happen.

That they are even considering reusable first stages however does show the power of competition and freedom. They never would have if SpaceX hadn’t come along and cut costs with this idea and thus take their entire market share from them. Now they have to find a way to compete in order to get some of that business back..

Russia to lower launch price of new Angara rocket

Capitalism in space: According to its 2019 financial report, the Russian manufacturer of that country’s new Angara rocket intends by 2024 to lower launch price from about $100 million to about $57 million.

The high cost price of the latest Angara carrier rocket before the start of its serial production is due to the need for the Khrunichev Space Center to work at two sites, the press office of the State Space Corporation Roscosmos told TASS on Monday. “Before the production process is fully moved to the site of the Polyot company in Omsk, the Khrunichev Space Center has to work at two production sites, which creates additional overhead costs,” a Roscosmos spokesman said.

As part of its trials, the Angara rocket is being produced singly instead of serially, he said. “After the serial full-cycle production is launched, the item’s cost price will decrease,” the spokesman said.

Essentially they are claiming that the cost will drop once they start full production.

S7 now in “negotiations” to sell Sea Launch to Russian government

Nice launch platform you got here. Be a shame if something happened to it: The private Russian airline company S7 is now in “negotiations” to sell the Sea Launch floating rocket launchpad to one of the Russian government’s state corporations, because it appears the Russian government is imposing such high fees on its operation the company can’t make a profit.

The second source confirmed the information, adding that “given the condition of the platform and the commander ship following the US side’s removal of equipment, and in connection with the need to create coastal infrastructure from scratch, costs of implementing the project are estimated as high.”

“Considering financial losses sustained as a result of the pandemic, a private company simply has no money to do that,” he added.

Previously the company had suspended operations because the Russian government had suddenly increased drastically the fees it was charging the company. I said then that this was simply a power play by that corrupt government to grab control of the launch platform. It appears now that this mob-like grab is succeeding.

Fuel leak in Russian rocket in French Guiana

According to French engineers in French Guiana, “systematic signals from the alarm system [have been detected] indicating the presence of oxidizer vapors” from the Fregat upper stage for a Russian Soyuz-2 rocket.

Russia is sending a team of its own engineers there to trouble-shoot what is essentially a fuel leak.

It also suggests that Russia’s systemic quality control problems in its aerospace industry have not been solved.

From my perspective, I don’t see how Russia can really eliminate what appears to be poor workmanship throughout their space industry without introducing competition, something they have banned with the consolidation of their entire aerospace industry into a single government-run corporation.

Russia says it will oppose Artemis Accords

My heart be still: Roscosmos head Dmitri Rogozin declared today that Russia “will not, in any case, accept any attempts to privatize the Moon.”

“It is illegal, it runs counter to international law,” Rogozin pointed out.

The Roscosmos CEO emphasized that Russia would begin the implementation of a lunar program in 2021 by launching the Luna-25 spacecraft to the Moon. Roscosmos intends to launch the Luna-26 spacecraft in 2024. After that, the Luna-27 lander will be sent to the Moon to dig up regolith and carry out research on the lunar surface.

Rogozin is doing the equivalent of a 2-year-old’s temper tantrum. Being a top-down authoritarian culture that likes to centralize power with those in charge, Russia doesn’t like Trump’s effort to regularize private enterprise and private property in space, including the administration’s new requirement that any international partner in its Artemis Moon program must agree to that effort.

Russia would rather we maintain the status quo as defined by the Outer Space Treaty, with no private property in space and everything controlled by UN bureaucrats and regulations, who are in turn controlled by the leaders from authoritarian places like Russia.

If Russia wants into Artemis, however, it looks like they will have to bend to the Trump accords. Or they will have to build their own independent space effort, competing with ours. Their problem is that their own program has been incredibly lame for the past twenty years, unable to get any new spacecraft or interplanetary mission off the ground.

Maybe the competition will help Russia, as it did in space in the 1960s. Or maybe they will simply help Biden get elected, and then all will be well! That brainless puppet will be glad to do the bidding of Russia and China, and will almost certainly dismantle Trump’s policies in favor of private enterprise.

U.S. universities have pocketed $6 billion from hostile enemy countries

Our new fifth column: An investigation by the Department of Education has found that U.S. universities have taken $6 billion in unreported donations from hostile coutnries, all of which could be in violation of the law.

A probe by the Department of Education into colleges that accept foreign investments and donations has uncovered $6 billion in previously unreported foreign donations from US adversaries including China and Russia, a report said Friday.

House Republicans were monitoring the investigation into the schools to determine if they were violating Section 117 of the Higher Education Act of 1965, which prohibits an “Institution of Higher Learning” from failing to properly report foreign gifts of $250,000 or more, Town Hall reported.

It also appears that some of those universities are now uncooperative, apparently placing their loyalties more with their foreign backers than with their own country.

This evidence is not surprising, and is reinforced by the numerous arrests in recent months of many university professors taking money secretly and illegally from China. The culture in the American university community has been downright hostile to the United States for decades. In the past it was dressed up as their effort to not be jingoistic. That was a long time ago. For at least two decades the academic community has been an anti-American fifth column, working as much as it can with foreign powers to both indoctrinate its students against their own country, while providing aid and comfort to authoritarian countries like Russia and China.

NASA signs deal with Russians for one Soyuz seat to ISS

Citing a need to provide some back-up in case there are more delays getting the American manned capsules being built by SpaceX and Boeing into operation, NASA yesterday announced that it has signed a deal with Roscosmos to buy one seat on the October Soyuz launch to ISS.

The statement did not disclose the value of the deal, but NASA spokesman Josh Finch told SpaceNews the agreement is valued at $90.25 million. That includes the seat on the Soyuz spacecraft and various training, pre-launch and post-landing services. In addition, Finch said that NASA will compensate Roscosmos for bumping a Russian cosmonaut off that Soyuz mission by flying an unspecified amount of Russian cargo to the station on NASA commercial cargo spacecraft.

I wonder if there are other political reasons behind this deal, besides insuring American access to ISS. $90 million is a lot of money to the Russians, and considering their impending loss of income from NASA (with us no longer buying Soyuz seats in the future) as well as their loss of most of their commercial launch business, it could be that NASA managers wanted to shore up Roscosmos’s financial situation. Remember, at NASA there are many who swear a greater loyalty to space operations from all countries, even at the expense of the United States.

Sea Launch project crushed by Putin government

Nice launch platform you got there. Be a shame is something happened to it: S7, the Russian company that had purchased and moved the Sea Launch platform from California to Russian, now says it is suspending operations because of the high costs imposed upon it by the Russian government.

The sale of Sea Launch to S7 Group closed in April 2018, but only in recent months had the company taken steps to move the ships from Long Beach to Russia. In February, the launch platform, Odyssey, was loaded onto a cargo ship that transported it to Russia, while the command ship sailed on its own.

In the interview, Filev appeared to regret moving the ships to Russia. He said he had been told that the costs of basing the ships in Russia would be no higher than what they had been in California. Instead, he said the cost was “twice as worse” in Russia.

S7 had claimed it hoped to do as many as 70 launches over the next 15 years, but it has no launch vehicle other than ones that the Russian government controls and allows it to use. It thus appears that the Putin government is moving to push S7 out of the deal so the government can take over.

Very typical for the corrupt, mob-inspired government in Putin’s Russia. There, you do not start your own company that might compete with the powers-that-be. Instead, anything you accomplish will taken by them for their own benefit.

Russia launches Progress freighter to ISS

Russia tonight successfully launched a new Progress freighter to ISS using its Soyuz-2 rocket.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

6 China
6 SpaceX
6 Russia

The U.S. now leads both China and Russia 10 to 6 in the national rankings. This is the first time that Russia has been able to keep up with China in launches in several years. Since China had expected to launch more times than Russia in 2020, this suggests that China’s launch rate has been reduced because of the Wuhan flu. It at least appears that many of their smaller launch rockets have suspended launches.

We have also heard nothing recently about China’s planned mid- to late-April first launch of its Long March 5B. With only six days left in the month, one wonders if this launch too has been delayed.

Russians slash their launch prices by 39%

Capitalism in space: Having lost their entire commercial market share because of SpaceX’s lower prices, the Russians have finally decided to slash their launch prices by 39%.

As the article notes, the cost for a Proton rocket launch was once $100 million. Then SpaceX came along with a $60 million pricetag. At first the Russians poo-pooed this, and did nothing. When their customers started to vanish however they decided to finally compete, so a year ago they cut the Proton price to match SpaceX’s.

Because of SpaceX’s ability to reuse its first stages, however, that $60 million price no longer worked. SpaceX had a year earlier lowered its prices even more, to $50 million, for launches with used first stages.

This new price slash by Roscosmos probably brings their price down to about $36 million, and thus beats SpaceX.

We shall see whether it will attract new customers. It definitely is now cheaper, but it is also less reliable. Russia continues to have serious quality control problems at its manufacturing level.

That SpaceX’s arrival forced a drop in the price of a launch from $100 million to less than $40 million illustrates the beautiful value of freedom and competition. The change is even more spectacular when you consider that ULA, the dominant American launch company before SpaceX, had been charging between $200 to $400 million per launch. For decades the Russians, ULA, and Arianespace refused to compete, working instead as a cartel to keep costs high.

SpaceX has ended this corrupt practice. We now have a competitive launch industry, and the result is that the exploration of the solar system is finally becoming a real possibility.

Correction: I originally called ULA “the only American launch company before SpaceX.” This was not correct, as Orbital Sciences, now part of Northrop Grumman, was also launching satellites. It just was a very minor player, with little impact. It was also excluded from the military’s EELV program, and thus could not launch payloads for them after around 2005.

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