Tag Archives: Russia

NASA selects full crew for first operational Dragon mission

Even though SpaceX’s first demonstration manned mission to ISS has not yet occurred, NASA yesterday announced the selection of the full four person crew for the second flight, set for later this year and intended as the first operational mission to ISS, lasting six months.

This announcement tells us several things, all good. First, it appears NASA has now definitely decided that the demo mission, presently scheduled for mid-May, will be a short-term mission. They had considered making it a six-month mission, but it now appears they have concluded doing so will delay the demo launch too much.

Second, that NASA is solidifying its plans for that operational flight, the second for Dragon, including a tentative launch date later in 2020, is further evidence that they intend to go through with the demo mission in mid-May.

Finally, it appears that NASA has decided that it will not buy more seats on Russian Soyuz capsules, something that they had previously hinted they needed to do because the agency was worried the American capsules would not be ready this year. The article describes the negotiations on-going with the Russians about the use of Dragon, as well as the future use by Americans of Soyuz. NASA wishes to have astronauts from both countries fly on both spacecraft (Starliner too, once operational), but Russia is as yet reluctant to fly its astronauts on Dragon. They want to see that spacecraft complete more missions successfully.

Regardless, future flights of Americans on Soyuz will cost NASA nothing, as the agency wishes to trade the seats on the U.S. capsules one-for-one for the seats on Soyuz. It also means that NASA has decided it doesn’t need to buy Soyuz flights anymore, as it now expects Dragon to become operational this year.

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OneWeb files for bankruptcy

Capitalism in space: OneWeb yesterday made official the rumors from the past week by filing for bankruptcy in the United States.

It appears that those rumors were essentially true, that one of the company’s biggest investors, Softbank, was having financial trouble due to the stock market crash caused by the Wuhan flu panic, and was not able to continue its investment in OneWeb. The result was that OneWeb could not pay its creditors, the biggest of which was Arianespace, which was managing the launch of most of the company’s satellites, using Russian Soyuz rockets from either French Guiana or Kazakhstan.

With about 18% of its constellation already in orbit and the rest pretty much ready for launch this year, the company has valuable assets that in bankruptcy will have value. It will likely be sold and continue operations under new management.

In the meantime this filing will hurt the bottom line of Arianespace and Russia.

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OneWeb faces bankruptcy, even as it is about to launch more satellites

According to reports today, OneWeb, one of two companies presently building a constellation of satellites for providing worldwide internet access, is facing a serious cash crunch and might have to file for bankruptcy.

The main investor, Softbank, apparently is short of cash due to bad investments, worsened further by the stock market crash due to the Wuhan virus panic this week. Furthermore, the panic has caused Arianespace, which is launching many of OneWeb’s satellites, to suspend all launches from its French Guiana spaceport.

OneWeb has already launched 74 satellites, with a Soyuz launch of 34 more from Russia tomorrow. While fewer than the 360 that its main competitor SpaceX has launched of its Starlink constellation, OneWeb doesn’t need as many based on constellation’s design to become operational. After tomorrow’s launch, OneWeb will have launched about 18% needed, compared to SpaceX’s 24%.

If OneWeb goes out of business, it will do great harm to both Russia’s launch industry as well as Europe’s Arianespace, both of which have contracts for launching most of OneWeb’s satellites. In fact, for Russia, OneWeb is pretty much the only commercial customer they have. If they lose that it will be a serious financial blow.

Similarly, Arianespace’s next generation rocket, Ariane 6, has had problems garnering contracts. Losing the OneWeb launches will also hurt their bottom line.

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Sea Launch arrives in Russia

The floating launch platform, built privately by an international partnership in the late 1990s and now owned by a Russian airline company, has arrived in Russia after a one month sea voyage from California.

Though supposedly owned now by S7, Sea Launch is really controlled by the Russian government and Roscosmos. They hope to use it as launch platform for their new Soyuz-5 rocket, intended as a family of rockets that would replace their venerable the Soyuz rocket originally developed in the 1960s.

Having a floating launch platform will also give Russia the ability for the first time to place satellites in low inclination orbits. The high latitudes of most of Russia means that any launches from any of their spaceports, including the one in Kazakhstan, will have a high inclination as well.

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Russia successfully launches GPS-type Glonass satellite

Russia on March 16 successfully launched a GPS-type Glonass satellite, using a Soyuz-2 rocket launched from a launchpad at they Plesetsk spaceport that had not been used in seventeen years.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

5 China
4 SpaceX
3 Russia
2 Arianespace (Europe)

The national ranking remains unchanged, with the U.S. leading China 7 to 5.

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Russia delays first 2020 Proton launch due to “component mismatch”

Russian officials yesterday announced that they are delaying the first Proton launch in 2020 from March to May in order to replace components that during tests were found to be “mismatched.”

According to [Khrunichev Space Center Director General Alexei] Varochko, quality control tests revealed mismatch of one of the components’ parameters. “In order to ensure proper serviceability and guarantee the implementation of the Khrunichev Center’s liabilities, it was decided to replace the components set, including in the Proton-M carrier rocket, which is kept at the Baikonur space center, to put Express satellites into orbit,” he said.

Nor are they having issues only with their Proton rocket. Two days ago they announced a one month delay of a Soyuz rocket, set for launch for Arianespace, because of “an off-nominal malfunction … on a circuit board” in the Freget-M upper stage. Rather than replace the component, they have decided to replace the entire stage

Proton is built by the Khrunichev facility. Freget-M is built by the Lavochkin facility. For both to have issues like this suggests once again that Russia’s aerospace industry continues to have serious quality control problems in its manufacturing processes. The one bright spot is that they are at least finding out about the problems prior to launch.

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Russia and China launch satellites

Today both China and Russia successfully placed satellites into orbit. China’s Long March 2D rocket placed four “technology test” satellites into orbit, while Russia used its Soyuz-2 rocket to launch a military communications satellite.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

4 China
3 SpaceX
2 Arianespace (Europe)
2 Russia

The U.S. continues to lead China 6 to 4 in the national rankings.

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Russian Soyuz launches 34 OneWeb satellites

Capitalism in space: Russia’s Soyuz rocket, launching from Russia, today successfully placed 34 OneWeb satellites into orbit.

This is the first of 20 launches over the next two years to build OneWeb’s satellite constellation. A previous Soyuz launch put up six demonstration satellites.

This was also Russia’s first launch in 2020. The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

3 China
2 SpaceX
1 Arianespace (Europe)
1 Rocket Lab
1 Russia

China leads the U.S. 3 to 2 in the national rankings.

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Russian satellite rendezvouses with U.S. military satellite

A Russian military satellite, dubbed Inspector and supposedly designed to “monitor other [Russian] satellites in orbit”, has rendezvoused with a U.S. military satellite satellite, and is maintain a distance of about 200 miles.

With such a close range, it allows Cosmos 2542 to take numerous photographs of USA 245. “The relative orbit is actually pretty cleverly designed,” Thompson wrote. “Cosmos 2542 can observe one side of the KH-11 when both satellites first come into sunlight, and by the time they enter eclipse, it has migrated to the other side.”

Some news reports have suggested this might be a precursor to an attempt to destroy the U.S. satellite, but that is silly hype. The Russians have apparently decided to use their long ago developed technology for unmanned rendezvous (with Progress freighters to manned space stations) for military surveillance in space. There is nothing illegal about them doing this.

From the U.S. military perspective, this Russian action however once again points out the need to not depend on large big and expensive satellites that are launched rarely and are difficult to replace. They are too vulnerable. Better to put up many small and cheap satellites that are easy to replace and also act to provide redundancy.

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Russia again delays launch of Nauka module for ISS

Russia yesterday announced that it will once again delay the launch of its Nauka module for ISS due to “additional adjustments that should be carried out due to the use of original propellant tanks.”

The TASS article did not explain what those adjustments will be, though it did outline some of the sad history of Nauka, which Russia had begun construction in 1995, a quarter of a century ago.

Earlier, Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozi said the research module’s original propellant tanks, manufactured about 18 years ago, could be replaced with those from the Fregat booster. However, later it was decided to send the module to the ISS with its original tanks.

The construction of the Nauka module began in 1995. Russia initially planned to launch the Nauka lab to the ISS as a back-up of the Zarya compartment (the station’s first module that continues its flight as part of the orbital outpost) but the launch was numerously delayed. In 2013, the Nauka module was sent to the Khrunichev Space Center after metal chips were found in its fuel system.

Right now they are saying it will probably launch early in 2021, not late in 2020 as previously announced.

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Investigation forces retraction of 800+ Russian science papers

An investigation by Russia’s Academy of Sciences has forced the retraction of more than 800 Russian science papers, many for plagiarism.

The RAS commission’s preliminary report documenting the problems and journals’ responses to them is “a bombshell,” says Gerson Sher, a former staffer at the U.S. National Science Foundation and the author of a recent book on U.S.-Russia science cooperation. The report, released yesterday, “will reinforce the suspicions and fears of many—that their country is not going down the right path in science and that it’s damaging its own reputation,” says Sher, who applauds RAS for commissioning the investigation.

Russia’s roughly 6000 academic journals, the vast majority published in Russian, are popular among the country’s academics. A 2019 study found that Russian authors publish far more in domestic journals than, for instance, their counterparts in Poland, Germany, or Indonesia. But standards are often low. In March 2018, for instance, Dissernet, a network aimed at cleaning up the Russian literature, identified more than 4000 cases of plagiarism and questionable authorship among 150,000 papers in about 1500 journals.

And Russian authors frequently republish their own work, says Yury Chekhovich, CEO of Antiplagiat, a plagiarism detection company. In September 2019, after sifting through 4.3 million Russian-language studies, Antiplagiat found that more than 70,000 were published at least twice; a few were published as many as 17 times. Chekhovich believes most instances are due to self-plagiarism. Meanwhile, the website 123mi.u claims to have brokered authorships for more than 10,000 researchers by selling slots on manuscripts written by others that were already accepted by journals.

In many ways this report reflects the overall corruption that appears to permeate the upper echelons of Russian culture. Rather than do real science and report it to the world, Russian scientists publish in Russian in ways that get them in-house promotions but do little to advance science.

That this investigation was conducted by the Russian Academy of Sciences however is a positive sign. It indicates a desire to clean things up.

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The state of the global rocket industry in 2019

With 2019 ending, it is time once again (as I did for 2016, 2017, and 2018) to review the trends in the global launch industry for the past year.

Below is my updated graph, showing the launch numbers for 2019 as well as for every year going back to 1990, just before the fall of the Soviet Union. That range I think covers all recent trends, while also giving some perspective on what happened in 2019.

The graph is worth reviewing at length, as it not only gives a sense of recent trends, it also summarizes well the history of the entire global space industry during the past thirty years. For example, it shows the transition in the U.S. in the past two decades from government-owned launchers to private rockets, a change that has revitalized the American space industry in more ways than be counted.
» Read more

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Russia’s population to shrink?

The coming dark age: According to a report from Russia’s national statistics office, the country’s population could drop by as much as 12 million by 2035.

The report outlined three scenarios, based on present trends, with only the most optimistic predicting any population increase, though even that saw population growing by only about four million by 2035. Meanwhile, the numbers the last two years were stark:

Russia’s overall population dropped for the first time in a decade last year, totaling 146.8 million as migration inflows hit record lows. It totaled 146.7 million so far in 2019, the State Statistics Service Rosstat said this month, as Russia experienced its highest natural population decline in 11 years.

These numbers are very disturbing, for they carry terrible consequences for both Russia and the rest of the world.

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Rockot launches three communications satellites

The last Russian Rockot this morning successfully placed three communications satellites and a cubesat into orbit.

The Russians are abandoning Rockot, a repurposed ballistic missile, because it uses Ukrainian hardware.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

32 China
22 Russia
13 SpaceX
8 Arianespace (Europe)

China still leads the U.S. 32 to 27 in the national rankings. At this moment no other launches are scheduled for 2019, though an unannounced military launch could still happen.

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Russia’s Proton launches weather satellite

Russia today used the Proton-M version of their Proton rocket to place a geosynchronous weather satellite into orbit.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

31 China
21 Russia
13 SpaceX
8 Arianespace (Europe)

China still leads the U.S. 31 to 27 in the national rankings.

Right now there are only two more launches scheduled for 2019, a Russian Rockot launch and China’s third launch of its big Long March 5 rocket. Look for my global launch report for 2019 soon after the New Year.

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Soyuz rocket launches five satellites for Arianespace

A Russian Soyuz rocket, launching from French Guiana for Arianespace, successfully placed five satellites in orbit early this morning, including CHEOPS, a European space telescope designed to study exoplanets.

Though this was a Russian rocket, I count it as an Arianespace launch as that is the company under which the launch operates. I also realize this is open to debate.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

30 China
20 Russia
13 SpaceX
8 Arianespace (Europe)

China still leads the U.S. 30 to 26 in the national rankings.

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Russia and India launch satellites

Two launches since yesterday. First, Russia used its Soyuz-2 rocket to place another GPS-type Glonass satellite into orbit. This was Russia’s 20th successful launch in 2019, the first time that country has hit that number since 2015.

Then India used its PSLV rocket to launch a military radar reconnaissance satellite.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

29 China
20 Russia
12 SpaceX
7 Europe (Arianespace)
6 Rocket Lab
6 India

China remains the leader in the national rankings, 29 to 25 over the U.S.

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Successful Russia and Rocket Lab launches

Two launches successfully took place in the early morning hours today. First Rocket Lab launched seven small satellites into orbit, including one that will release an artificial meteor shower. During that launch they also obtained telemetry of their first stage as it fell to Earth.

Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck just tweeted that the Electron’s first stage performed well during today’s re-entry experiment. “Electron made it through wall! Solid telemetry all the way to sea level with a healthy stage. A massive step for recovery!!” Beck tweeted.

Russia in turn launched a Progress cargo capsule to ISS.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

27 China
19 Russia
12 SpaceX
7 Europe (Arianespace)
6 Rocket Lab

China now leads the U.S. 27 to 25 in the national rankings.

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Russians launch military satellite

Using a Soyuz-2 rocket the Russians today successfully launched a classified military satellite from its spaceport in Plesetsk.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

26 China
18 Russia
11 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)

China continues to lead the U.S. in the national rankings, 26 to 23.

These numbers will change again later today if Arianespace successfully launches two communications satellites. They have been trying to launch now for three days, but minor technical problems and weather have stymied them.

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“Damaged cable” causes Russians to delay Progress launch

Because of the discovery of a “damaged cable” on a Progress freighter, the Russians have delayed its launch from December 1 to December 6.

On the morning of November 25, Roskosmos announced that issues had been found during the preparations of Progress MS-13 for launch. “Problems are now resolved and the checks of onboard systems are ongoing,” the State Corporation said. “There will be a separate announcement on the launch date…” the announcement said, hinting that the planned December 1 launch window was no longer valid. Before the end of the work day in Moscow on November 25, Roskosmos posted an update announcing that the launch of Progress MS-13 had been rescheduled for December 6, 2019, at 12:34 Moscow Time, due to an issue with an onboard cable found by specialists from RKK Energia. The problem was resolved after the replacement of the cable, the company said. According to a posting on the online forum of the Novosti Kosmonavtiki magazine, specialists spent past two days trying to find a source of electric charge on the body of the spacecraft and then discovered a damaged cable in the vehicle’s instrument compartment. [emphasis mine]

Considering the drillhole found in an earlier Soyuz capsule, I cannot help wondering if this damage was intentional. The Russians never revealed if they had identified the culprit of that earlier damage, and the reports from Russia today are somewhat vague about this new damage.

This Progress launch had earlier been rescheduled from December 6 to avoid a conflict with the launch of a Dragon cargo capsule. There is no word yet on how that conflict will be mitigated now that the launch is back on that date.

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Putin slams Roscosmos for continuing corruption at Vostochny

At a meeting yesterday Russian President Vladimir Putin blasted Roscosmos for the corruption at the new spaceport at Vostochny, noting that despite the prosecution of numerous individuals the criminal behavior continues.

Russian President Putin said at a government meeting on Monday that dozens of criminal cases and jailings had failed to stem theft at the Vostochny spaceport construction site….

“It has been stated a hundred times: you must work transparently because large funds are allocated. This project is actually of the national scope! But, despite this, hundreds of millions, hundreds of millions [of rubles] are stolen! Several dozen criminal cases have been opened, the courts have already passed verdicts and some are serving their prison terms. However, things have not been put in order there the way it should have been done,” the Russian president said.

This article notes that out of $1.4 billion allocated for the spaceport, $169 million has been stolen. It does not however provide any details about any new corruption. Instead, it outlines the investigations and prosecutions that have already taken place.

According to Peskov, “at the first stage, 128 criminal cases were opened, which were later consolidated into 32 criminal cases and at the next stage the Investigative Committee singled out 21 cases and transferred them to the court of law and 18 persons were sentenced at the time,” Peskov said. “The Interior Ministry investigated 8 more cases,” he added.

Either Roscosmos officials revealed to Putin newly discovered corruption that the state-run press has been forbidden to discuss, or Putin’s criticism was aimed to discouraging future corruption.

Either way, Vostochny remains a typical government boondoggle. It has cost Russia far more than it should, and construction has been slow, beginning officially in 2012, though Russia has been working on it in fits and starts since the mid-2000s.

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Russia ships three more engines to U.S. for ULA’s rockets

Russia announced yesterday that it has delivered three more RD-180 engines to ULA for use in its Atlas 5 rocket.

The article notes that this contract, as well as the contract with Northrop Grumman to make RD-181 engines for the Antares rocket, both end in December 2019. While ULA has said it plans to replace the Russia engine with Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine (still under development), it is not clear what Northrop Grumman will do.

In both cases, Russia has delivered enough engines to cover launches for the next few years. This will give Blue Origin time to complete development of the BE-4. As for Antares, the lack of its Russian engine, combined with its inability to obtain any customers other than NASA, could spell the end of that rocket once Northrop Grumman has used up its engine stockpile.

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Turkey negotiating with Russia to train its future astronauts

Turkey might not have yet established its space program, nor have any announced intention of sending anyone into space, but it is presently negotiating with Russia to send any of its future astronauts to Russia for training.

Turkey has confirmed its intention to send astronauts to Russia for training, as follows from a report uploaded to the website of the Russian space corporation Roscosmos on Thursday following a working meeting between Roscosmos CEO Dmitry Rogozin and Turkey’s Ambassador to Russia Mehmet Samsar.

“The Turkish side confirmed its original plans for having its astronauts trained in the Star City,” the news release runs. “In the conversation topical issues concerning mutually beneficial cooperation in space were discussed. The two sides noted the great potential and importance of this theme in relations between the two countries,” the news release adds.

Earlier, the Roscosmos CEO said a Turkish astronaut might go to the International Space Station in 2021-2023.

Roscosmos right now is the only place in the world that has an established program for training astronauts, and it is clearly trying to make itself the go-to place for this service. This in turn gives Russia a big advantage in any worldwide competition for flying tourists or international governmental astronauts. If Turkey for example needs to choose between buying astronaut tickets on SpaceX or Roscosmos, it will lean toward Roscosmos because that was where its astronauts were trained.

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Proton flies last commercial mission

Scheduled for retirement by Russia and having its entire commercial business taken by SpaceX, Russia’s Proton rocket today successfully launched its last commercial mission.

The primary payload was a European communications satellite. The secondary payload is more significant as it is Northrop Grumman’s Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-1), designed to grab defunct satellites that are out of fuel and bring them back to life using its own fuel and engines.

The docking mechanism of the MEV spacecraft allows it to link up with a spacecraft which carries no specialized rendezvous and docking hardware. According to Northrop Grumman, MEV, can use its proximity sensors and docking hardware to reliably attach itself to 80 percent of typical satellites deployed in geostationary orbit. The developer also said that after completing the work assisting the first spacecraft, the MEV vehicle could be undocked and moved multiple times during its more than 15-year operational life span to support satellites from other customers.

They plan to revive one of Intelsat’s satellites and operate it for five years.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

19 China
17 Russia
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S. and China remain tied at 19 in the national rankings.

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Russia strips Sea Launch platform of foreign equipment

In an effort to get the U.S. government to allow them to transport the Sea Launch platform from California to a Russia port in the far east, the Russians have now stripped the platform of all Boeing and Ukrainian equipment.

Originally built by a partnership of Russia, Ukraine, and Boeing, the platform is supposedly now owned by S7, a Russian airline company, but in truth it is controlled entirely by the Russian government, which wishes to refit it to launch the new Soyuz-5 rocket they are now developing.

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NASA in negotiations to buy more Russian Soyuz astronaut seats

Collusion with Russia discovered! NASA has begun negotiations with Russia’s Roscosmos space agency to buy more astronaut flights to ISS using Russia’s Soyuz rocket and capsule.

According to the story at the link, NASA’s last purchased ticket will fly in March of 2020, and these negotiations would buy flights beginning in the fall of 2020 and beyond into 2021. The story also cites statements by NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine to CNN, confirming these negotiations.

Apparently NASA thinks the manned capsules being built by Boeing and SpaceX will not be ready by the fall of 2020, and needs to buy tickets from Russia because of this.

However, the only reason those American capsules will not have been approved and flown by then will be because NASA’s timidity in approving their launch. The agency’s safety panel as well as its management have repeatedly delayed these private American capsules, sometimes for very strange reasons, including a demand that lots of paperwork be filled out, and what I consider to be an unjustified demand for perfect safety.

Had NASA adopted a reasonable criteria for launch, SpaceX’s Dragon capsule could have flown three years ago.

Meanwhile, NASA seems quite willing to put Americans on a Soyuz rocket, launched by a foreign power whose safety record in the past half decade has been spotty, at best. In that time Russia has experienced numerous quality control problems, including mistakes that led to an Soyuz abort during a launch and a Soyuz parachute failure during a landing, corruption that forced them to recall all rocket engines and freeze launches for almost a year, and sabotage where someone drilled a hole in a Soyuz capsule prior to launch, a sabotage that Russia still refuses to explain.

It is unconscionable for NASA to favor putting Americans on a Soyuz with many documented safety issues, but block the launch of Americans on American-made capsules, for imagined safety issues that have mostly made no sense. In fact, the contrast makes me wonder about the loyalty of NASA’s bureaucracy. They certainly seem to favor Russia and Roscosmos over private American companies.

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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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