Frank Rubio’s flight to ISS will exceed a year, setting a new American record

Frank Rubio
Frank Rubio

Initially, Frank Rubio’s first flight in space was intended to be a standard six month mission on ISS. Launched on September 21, 2022 on a Soyuz-2 rocket inside a Soyuz capsule, the plan was for him and his two crewmates to return in March, 2023.

Then their Soyuz capsule developed a leak in its coolant system in December 2022. Not knowing if it was safe to use this capsule with humans inside, a replacement unmanned Soyuz capsule was launched by the Russians to ISS in February 2023, with the leaking Soyuz capsule brought back unmanned earlier this week.

The Russians however decided that this new capsule, designed for a six month mission, would stay in orbit for six months, so that it would be used to its planned capability. This decision also hinged on the lack of a new crew arriving on this new capsule. If it brought Rubio and his crew home earlier, ISS would be short three crew members for at least several months.

The planned return date, September 27, 2023, now means that Rubio’s mission will be at least 371 days long, making him the first American to fly a full year in space. Previously NASA falsely touted Scott Kelly’s 340-day mission as a year-long mission, when it never was. Later, Mark Vande Hei’s mission, also launched on a Soyuz, was extended to 355 days, still just short of a year, because the Russians wanted to send a film crew to ISS and return them on the capsule which Vande Hei was intended to come home on.

Whether Rubio truly does spend a year in space however remains uncertain. Two different Russian spacecraft — the Soyuz and a Progress freighter — have developed this coolant leak in the past three months. If this problem is a systemic manufacturing error, which Russia is now investigating, the decision might be to return the new capsule sooner than planned, out of fear it will develop its own leak. We shall likely find out sometime in the next three months.

If Rubio does end up in space for a full year, however, it will likely be a dream come true, having become an astronaut in 2017 but waiting six years for his first flight.

Leaking Soyuz capsule returns unmanned to Earth

The Soyuz capsule with a leaking coolant system successfully landed in Kazakhstan today, returning to Earth unmanned because of that leak.

Russian engineers will now analyze whether a crew would have been able to come home safely in that spacecraft, despite its damaged coolant system, which will provide information for future such problems. They will not be able to study the leak itself, however, as it was part of the capsule’s service module, which separates upon return and burns up in the atmosphere.

Russia considering bringing Soyuz launched on February 23rd home earlier

According to unnamed sources in the Russian press, Roscosmos officials are considering bringing the Soyuz capsule launched on February 23rd to ISS back to Earth in June rather than September, while moving up the launch of the next Soyuz manned mission.

As noted by space journalist Anatoly Zak:

The existence of such plans indicated that specialists had still been concerned about the possibility of a critical leak in the thermal control system of the fresh crew vehicle similar to those that hit two previous transport ships. Such change in schedule would also debunk the official explanation of previous two accidents by Roskosmos and NASA as caused by meteors rather than production defects.

The two previous coolant leaks occurred about three months after launch. Bringing the Soyuz home in June would get it home in about three and a half months, suggesting the Russians are no longer confident their Soyuz and Progress spacecraft can withstand six months in space.

If this plan is adopted it will also put less strain on the crew slated to come home on that Soyuz. Their mission has been planned for six months. Extending it to a full year without any prior preparation risks serious health issues.

Russians launch unmanned Soyuz to ISS

The Russians today successfully launched an unmanned Soyuz capsule to ISS to replace the capsule damaged by a coolant leak in December.

The new capsule will dock to ISS in two days, on February 25th. Then on February 27th a Falcon 9 rocket will launch four astronauts on its Endurance reusable Dragon capsule. The damaged Soyuz capsule will be de-orbited shortly thereafter.

Because of the new Soyuz was intended to remain in orbit with its crew until September, Roscosmos and NASA agreed to keep the crew from the damaged Soyuz on ISS until then, making the mission of these two Russians and American Frank Rubio about a year long. There is a chance Rubio could set a new record for the longest American mission, depending on the exact day his mission returns.

The 2023 launch race:

12 SpaceX
6 China
3 Russia
1 Rocket Lab
1 Japan
1 India

American private enterprise still leads China 13 to 6 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 13 to 11. SpaceX alone still leads the entire world 12 to 11.

Russians release image of coolant system hole in Progress

Comparing holes in Soyuz and Progress spacecraft

Roscosmos officials today released a close-up image taken on February 17, 2023 of what they think is the hole in the Progress freighter that caused a leak in its coolant system on February 11th.

The picture was taken shortly after the freighter undocked from ISS to be de-orbited over the Pacific. To the right is a comparison of pictures taken of that Progress hole and the hole that occurred in December on the Soyuz spacecraft docked to ISS. The comparison was first created by this Twitter user but rearranged by me to post here. The red circle in the bottom image marks what the Russians identify as the Progress hole. The top image shows the hole that caused an almost identical leak in a Soyuz capsule in December. The Russians say the Progress hole is about 12 millimeters in diameter, and to their mind was caused “by an external influence,” same as the Soyuz hole.

This conclusion however is suspect. If you look at the best resolution version of the picture of the Progress hole (available here), there appears to be material surrounding the hole, as if the hole broke from the inside, not from an outside impact. (Because the resolution is poor, however, this conclusion is uncertain.)

More telling is that, as both pictures show, the two holes are almost in the exact same place on these two spacecraft. As noted by the Twitter user who first made this picture comparison, “I can’t even calculate the odds of 2 spacecraft being struck in almost the same place, within weeks of each other.”

That the Soyuz leak caused so much staining and the Progress leak has none is also puzzling.

Were these leaks both caused by the impact of a micrometeoriod or piece of space junk, as the Russians now claim? Or was one by sabotage or sloppy production work on the ground? Or were both? One impact might make sense, but two at almost the same spot? It defies logic or the percentages for two impacts so similar to occur so close together in time.

Sabotage however in the same area is very conceivable, especially considering that the Russians have never explained the cause of the hole that was drilled in a Soyuz capsule in 2018, a hole that was drilled and then patched, before launch.

Inspection of leaking Progress after undocking detects no obvious damage

After undocking the Progress freighter from ISS yesterday, Russian astronauts on the station rolled it so that all sides of its service module could be photographed and inspected in the hope of spotting the leak in its coolant system that sprung on February 11th.

No visual damage has been detected at the Progress MS-21 spacecraft after it undocked from the International Space Station. “After the Progress MS-21 cargo spacecraft undocked from the International Space Station’s Poisk mini-research module, footage was made of its exterior surface and no visual damage was detected,” the statement [from Roscosmos] reads.

Initially the Russians postponed its de-orbit as they considered the idea of redocking the freighter to another port on the Russian half of ISS in order to inspect it more closely, but eventually they decided to fore-go that plan and de-orbit it on February 19th, one day later.

In watching the live stream of the undocking and the roll maneuver, I thought I saw a partial reddish-orange stain, similar to the stain around the hole that occurred in the Soyuz capsule in December, but it was mostly hidden behind other equipment and the Russians seemed to not consider this significant.

Roscosmos will launch unmanned Soyuz to ISS on February 21

Roscosmos today announced that it will launch the unmanned Soyuz to ISS on February 21st, only a two-day delay after doing a quick inspection of its outer surface for possible damage following the coolant leak of a Progress freighter on February 11th.

BtB’s stringer Jay provided me this translation of the announcement at the link:

The Soyuz MS-23 spacecraft has been checked and is beginning to be prepared for launch. The preparations suspended the day before at Baikonur will resume tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.
The launch is scheduled for the 20th of February.

The ship was inspected. No maliciously drilled holes were found. We decided not to wait any longer. In any case, a refueled ship must either be launched or sent to a museum.

Update: removal of the launch vehicle to the launch pad on February 18, launch on February 21″ [emphasis mine]

The highlighted words are truly intriguing. It appears Roscosmos is desperately trying to convince the world that the repeated recent leaks to Soyuz and Progress spacecraft are not related to sabotage on the ground. At the same, Roscosmos has never told us the results of its investigation into the 2018 hole in a Soyuz capsule that someone drilled and then patched before launch. It seems incredibly unlikely that the two recent leaks in the exterior coolant systems of two different spacecrafts were both caused by impact from a micrometeorite or tiny piece of space junk. Two such impacts could of course occur this frequently, but for both to happen to such similar locations on only Russian spacecraft seems beyond improbable.

Either way, the decision makes some sense. The available lifeboats on ISS right now are really insufficient. Better to get this launched. More important, they had already begun fueling it, and once that is done the clock was running. They have to launch by a certain time.

Meanwhile it would be wise for NASA to begin arranging new emergency lifeboat arrangements with SpaceX as well as Boeing (once it finally gets Starliner operational). Depending on the Russians for even part of this responsibility seems ill advised. If preplanned properly, SpaceX could certainly launch one of its Dragon manned capsules quickly in an emergency.

First picture of hole that occurred on Soyuz in December

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

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

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

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

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

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

ISS as of February 11, 2023

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

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

Russians successfully test replacement Soyuz capsule for leaks

The next Soyuz capsule to launch to ISS has now been passed its leak tests on the ground as it is being prepared for a February 20th launch.

“At the Baikonur cosmodrome, leak tests of the Soyuz MS-23 transport crewed spacecraft have been completed,” the [Roscosmos press release] said. In the coming days, checks of the propulsion system’s automation equipment, onboard digital computerized system and radio engineering systems will follow. Also, the thermal control system is to be filled with a coolant.

The launch has been moved up one month in order to speed the replacement of the leaking Soyuz presently on ISS.

Astronauts complete Soyuz seat liner installation inside Endurance

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

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

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

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

American astronaut seat liner shifted to Dragon temporarily

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

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

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

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

Russia and Europe negotiating return of rockets and satellites

Russia and Europe have begun negotiations concerning the return of the various rockets and satellites that were left stranded in both countries when Russia invaded the Ukraine and all cooperative international agreements between the two entities broke off.

[I]n January 2023, an industry source told that Arianespace representatives were exploring a potential deal with Roskosmos on the exchange of Soyuz rocket components stranded in French Guiana for a group of 36 OneWeb satellites stuck in Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan after the aborted 14th launch for the Internet constellation. The satellites were held at the Russian-controlled facility in Kazakhstan per the order by Rogozin, but the newly appointed head of the Roskosmos State Corporation Yuri Borisov was reportedly opened to negotiations on their fate.

There are many obstacles blocking this deal, the biggest being the on going war itself. It will be necessary to engineers to both places to facilitate the return, and the war right now makes that difficult if not impossible.

Ironically, Russia is likely in more need of this deal than Europe. OneWeb of course wants its satellites back, but it can replace them. Russia it appears is having trouble building complex things like rockets, and needs these rockets and components to replace components it no longer can get in the west.

Leaking Soyuz to return empty; Unmanned Soyuz to be launched to replace it

The Russians announced today the plan to deal with the leaking Soyuz capsule on ISS as well as provide transportation back to Earth for its three astronauts.

First, the damaged Soyuz will return empty to Earth. Second, the next Soyuz will be launched in February unmanned so that it can bring back all three astronauts. Their mission however will likely be extended. Instead of returning in March as planned, they will stay in orbit until September, when that capsule was originally going to return to Earth. If this happens, it means their flight will end up being about a full year long. For the American in that crew, Frank Rubio, this could mean he will set a new American record for the longest spaceflight.

The Russians also added these details about the puncture in the Soyuz, which is believed to have been caused by a meteor:

According to calculations, a hole in the instrument compartment of the spacecraft, observed with a camera of the American ISS Segment, could be caused by a one-millimeter particle striking the vehicle with a speed of around 7,000 meters per second. Borisov also said that a possibility of a manufacturing defect in the radiator system of Soyuz MS-22 had also been evaluated but had not been confirmed.

Decision on leaking Soyuz and its replacement to be made by Russia on January 11th

According to Russian space reporter Anthony Zak, Russia now says it will make its final decision on replacing the leaking manned Soyuz capsule on ISS January 11. Zak added this:

According to unofficial reports, the damaged spacecraft would return to Earth without crew, while the Soyuz MS-23 spacecraft would be launched in February 2023 piloted by a single cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko. His crew mates Nikolai Chub and Andrei Fedyaev would remain on the ground to free return seats for the two Russian members of the stranded Soyuz MS-22 crew. NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, who also traveled to the ISS on Soyuz MS-22, would return to Earth aboard a US Dragon vehicle, according to that scenario. On Jan. 9, 2023, Roskosmos denied that such a plan had been approved.

I have strong doubts about these “unofficial reports.” First, there would be no reason to fly the Soyuz manned, as it can do everything automatically, just like a Progress freighter. Second, there are serious safety issues about flying Rubio home as an extra passenger on Dragon. More likely someone in Russia wants to tweak some noses by suggesting Russia considers its own astronauts more valuable than the American.

Expect Russia to announce that the new Soyuz will arrive unmanned in February, and bring all three men home.

Russian investigators conclude leak on Soyuz caused by external impact

ISS as of November 28, 2022
ISS after November 28, 2022 docking of unmanned Dragon freighter.
MS-22 is the Soyuz capsule that is leaking.

The Russian investigators yesterday concluded that the coolant leak on the Soyuz capsule docked to ISS was caused by an external impact, either by a meteroid or a small piece of space junk.

A decision on whether this capsule is still usable for manned flight will be made sometime in January. If not, Russia will move up the launch of the next Soyuz to ISS one month from March to February, but launch it empty. If so, managers will leave the schedule as is.

If the engineers determine the capsule is not flightworthy, it will mean however that until February, ISS is short one lifeboat. At present there are two Dragon capsules docked to ISS, one manned and one cargo. Both return to Earth with a habitable interior, but the cargo capsule is not intended for manned flight. In an emergency however it might be possible to use it.

This situation suggests that NASA should pay to get SpaceX to upgrade the cargo Dragons so that they could always be used as an emergency lifeboat.

Soyuz hole not caused by a Geminid meteor

According to an analysis by both NASA and Russian engineers, the 0.8 mm hole in the coolant system on the Soyuz docked to ISS was not caused by an object from the Geminid meteor shower that had occurred about the time the leak appeared.

The Soyuz vehicle, known as MS-22, sprayed its coolant into space on Dec. 14, the same day that the annual Geminid meteor shower peaked. But there’s no causal connection, NASA and Russian space officials said. “We did look at the meteor showers that were occurring,” Joel Montalbano, NASA’s International Space Station program manager, said during a press briefing on Thursday (Dec. 22). “Both the trajectory team in Houston and the trajectory team in Moscow confirmed it was not from the meteor showers; it was in the wrong direction.”

The engineers claim the hole could still have been caused by an impact, just not from these meteors.

Russians preparing replacement Soyuz for launch to ISS

ISS as of November 28, 2022
ISS after November 28, 2022 docking of unmanned Dragon freighter.
MS-22 is the Soyuz capsule that is leaking.

Though a final decision will not be made until the completion on December 27, 2022 of their investigation into the leak in the coolant system of the Soyuz capsule docked to ISS, the Russians have begun preparing a replacement Soyuz for launch.

A backup spacecraft to bring cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) back to Earth will be prepared by February 19 and the spaceship is currently undergoing tests at the Baikonur spaceport, Roscosmos Chief Yury Borisov said on Monday.

That replacement Soyuz was supposed to launch in March, which means they can only accelerate its preparation by about a month. Assuming it is determined that the leaking capsule cannot be used safely as a lifeboat, this means that until February the station does not have its standard complement of lifeboats.

Should something happen that requires an immediate evacuation before February, it might be possible to get an extra three people into the two Dragon capsules presently docked to ISS, since each was designed to carry a maximum of six passengers, though generally four is considered their maximum capacity.

Temperature in leaking Soyuz capsule drops

According to Russia’s state-run press TASS, the temperature in its leaking Soyuz capsule on ISS has now dropped to between 50 to 54 degrees Fahrenheit.

The language of the report suggests this temperature drop was the result of actions by Russia’s mission control, but that is decidedly unclear. With the thermal control system now depressurized, the capsule’s temperature could fluctuate a lot, depending on whether it is in shadow or sunlight, a condition dependent on the overall orientation of ISS itself.

A second TASS report today said that two Russian working groups are reviewing the data, and will decide around December 27th what the next step will be, including the possibility of launching a Soyuz capsule unmanned to replace this capsule.

“I believe that at the end of December, somewhere on the 27th [of December], specialists – and now two working groups have been set up – will decide on how we will resolve this situation,” [Yuri Borisov] the Roscosmos head, said in an interview with the daily Izvestia.

There is plenty of time for making decisions and “there is no hurry,” Borisov stressed.

What Borisov was really saying is that there is no reason to panic, but action must be taken without unnecessary delay.

Russians test thrusters on leaking Soyuz

In the continuing investigation into the leak of coolant from a Soyuz capsule docked to ISS, Russian engineers yesterday tested the capsule’s thrusters, finding they functioned as normal.

As part of the ongoing evaluation and investigation, Roscosmos flight controllers conducted a successful test of the Soyuz MS-22 thrusters at 3:08 a.m. EST Friday, Dec. 16. The systems that were tested were nominal, and Roscosmos assessments of additional Soyuz systems continue. Temperatures and humidity within the Soyuz spacecraft, which remains docked to the Rassvet module, are within acceptable limits.

The highlighted words have been the Russians’ way of downplaying a serious concern. According to their own data, the temperatures in the capsule have now risen to 86 degrees Fahrenheit, which though entirely safe is higher than normal for within habitable spacecraft. Should those temperatures continue to rise, it will start to become a problem.

One solution would be circulate cooler air from the rest of the station. I suspect this is possible with equipment on board, but do not know for sure.

Right now however it surely appears that it would likely not be wise to return its crew to Earth in this capsule, and that a replacement will be required.

Russian official: Soyuz leak possibly caused by micrometeorite hit

According to Sergei Krikalev, who heads Roscosmos’ manned program, the leak of coolant from the Soyuz capsule docked at ISS could have been caused by a micrometeorite hit.

Sergei Krikalev, a veteran cosmonaut who serves as the director of crewed space flight programs at Roscosmos, said a meteorite striking one of external radiators of the Soyuz MS-22 capsule could have caused the coolant to escape.

The malfunction could affect the performance of the capsule’s coolant system and the temperature in the equipment section of the capsule but doesn’t endanger the crew, Krikalev said in a statement.

Krikalev said Russian flight controllers were assessing the situation and following temperature indicators on the Soyuz. “There have been no other changes in parameters on the Soyuz spacecraft and the station, so there is no threat for the crew,” he said.

The “equipment section of the capsule” is its service module, not its habitable orbital module or descent module.

Krikalev, the first Russian to fly on the space shuttle and occupy ISS, is a generally very reliable source. He is speculating, but not wildly but based on what is so far known. The upcoming inspection of the Soyuz using an ISS robot arm will soon tell us whether he is right or not. Krikalev also said that the inspection will tell them whether this capsule can be used to return its astronauts to Earth.

December 15, 2022 Quick space links

Courtesy of Jay, BtB’s stringer. All the links today have to do with the Soyuz capsule that is leaking on ISS.




  • Details about the leaking coolant are described here and here.
  • The second link provides a description of the cooling system that is leaking. It appears the leaking material could be water, or “Isooctan LZ-TK-2”.


Soyuz manned capsule docked to ISS is apparently leaking something

A spacewalk today was cancelled when it was suddenly noticed that some unknown substance was leaking from one of the Soyuz manned capsules docked to ISS.

During preparations for this evening’s planned spacewalk by Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin, ground teams noticed significant leaking of an unknown substance from the aft portion of the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft docked to the Rassvet module on the International Space Station. The spacewalk has been canceled, and ground teams in Moscow are evaluating the nature of the fluid and potential impacts to the integrity of the Soyuz spacecraft, which carried Prokopyev, Petelin, and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio into space after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Sept. 21.

The big question is whether this leak will impact the capsule’s function as a lifeboat or a return vehicle for the three astronauts it brought into space. If so, then an empty manned capsule needs to be launched, either by the Russians or SpaceX, though if the latter someone would have to pay the cost.

Russia launches three astronauts to ISS; China launches Earth observation satellite

Russia today successfully used its Soyuz-2 rocket to launch three astronauts to ISS, two Russians and an American flying as part of the NASA-Roscosmos barter deal whereby each agency flies an astronaut from the other in order to make sure everyone knows how to use each other’s equipment.

China in turn today used its Long March 2D rocket to launch an Earth observations satellite into orbit.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

42 SpaceX
38 China
12 Russia
7 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise still leads China 58 to 38 in the national rankings, and is now tied with the entire world combined at 58.

September 8, 2022 Quick space links

Courtesy of string Jay:

Russia to launch Tunisian astronaut to ISS

As part of an agreement between the two nations, Russia yesterday announced that it will fly a Tunisian woman to ISS in 2024.

On August 13, Women’s Day in Tunisia, eight women candidates for a space flight were presented. They are currently undergoing medical examination. Six of them will go to Russia for the final stage of pre-qualification to choose two best candidates: one will be a member of the main crew, the other one – of the standby crew.

No longer able to make money selling the spare seats on Soyuz to NASA, and apparently not getting much interest from the private sector inside or outside of Russia to buy these seats, the Putin government is now using them for international diplomacy, just as it did during the Soviet era.

Japanese satellite startup Synspective raises $100 million

Capitalism in space: The Japanese satellite startup Synspective announced today that it has successfully raised $100 million in private investment capital.

The latest funding was led by Sompo Japan Insurance Inc. (Tokyo, Japan), Nomura SPARX Investment, Inc. (Tokyo, Japan), and Pavilion Capital Pte. Ltd. (Singapore) among others, as well as bank loans, and it is supposed to be ranked within the top ten largest startups in Japan. This puts our total funding value at US $200M (22.8 billion yen) since our founding.

The company plans to launch a constellation of 30 radar satellites by 2026, designed to do Earth resource observations.

Synspective had hoped to launch its first demonstration satellite in ’23 on a Soyuz rocket. That launch is presently threatened by Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, though it is not clear if it has been cancelled.

Russia launches three Russians to ISS on Soyuz-2 rocket

Russia today successfully launched three astronauts to ISS on its Soyuz-2 rocket, the first time the crew on a Russian launch to ISS was entirely Russian.

The docking at the station is expected three hours after launch.

The reason for the all-Russian crew has nothing to do with the Ukraine War. Initially NASA and Roscosmos were negotiating to have an American on this flight as part of a barter deal, whereby astronauts from the two space agencies fly on each other’s capsules in an even trade to gain experience with each. In October both agencies agreed to hold off the first barter flight until ’22. With the on-going sanctions however it is now unknown whether that barter deal will go forward.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

10 SpaceX
6 China
3 Russia

The U.S. still leads China 16 to 6 in the national rankings, with SpaceX having a scheduled Starlink launch this evening.

Russia today confirmed it will return NASA astronaut as planned

As expected, Russia today confirmed in its state-run TASS news agency that NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei will come back to Earth in its Soyuz capsule on March 30th, as planned.

The Soyuz MS-19 space capsule with Anton Shkaplerov, Pyotr Dubrov and Mark Vande Hei is expected to land on March 30. Dubrov and Vande Hei arrived on the ISS in the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft together with Oleg Novitsky. This descent module brought back to Earth the two feature film crew members – actress Yulia Peresild and film director Klim Shipenko, who had arrived on the ISS together with Anton Shkaplerov in the Soyuz MS-19 on October 5.

There had been a number of stories in the mainstream press suggesting the Russians would leave Vande Hei behind in response to the international sanctions being imposed on Russia because of its invasion of the Ukraine. All were based on a single comment by Roscosmos’ head Dmitry Rogozin, who had simply noted visuals from a Russian news source and aired in the U.S. that showed the Russian half of ISS separating away and leaving Vande Hei behind. Rogozin was only noting that the U.S. press was worried about this possibility.

There was no chance the Russians would separate its half of ISS now. Zero. To do such a thing will require several months of preparation. For example, the Russian half has at least one module, Zvezda, that is failing. If Russia ever creates its own new space station using part of ISS, it will have to launch some new modules first.

Also, for Russia to leave Vande Hei behind would be a public relations disaster that would only make worse the disaster of its invasion of the Ukraine. Russia might end its partnership at ISS in the near future, but it won’t do it in a way that might threaten the lives of any astronauts, from any nation.

Japanese tourists return to Earth after 12 days in space

Capitalism in space: Japanese tourists billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and his assistant Yozo Hirano safely returned to Earth yesterday in their Russian Soyuz capsule after spending 12 days on the Russian half of ISS.

Maezawa’s and Hirano’s flight contracts were negotiated by Space Adventures, the only company to date to fly its clients to the International Space Station. Prior to Soyuz MS-20, Space Adventures organized eight flights for seven self-funded astronauts (one flew twice).

Maezawa, 46, is the CEO of Start Today and founder of ZOZO, an online retail clothing business, which he sold to Yahoo! Japan. In 2018, he paid an undisclosed but substantial amount to SpaceX for a circumlunar flight on the company’s still-in-development Starship spacecraft. Maezawa’s “dearMoon” mission, which will fly him and a crew of artists around the moon, is currently targeted for launch in 2023.

Hirano, 36, managed the photography team at ZOZO and is now a film producer at Start Today. In addition to filming Maezawa during the mission, Hirano also took part in human health and performance research on behalf of the Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. The studies included collecting electrocardiogram readings and using a portable auto-refractor device to collect sight data.

The article also notes a minor record set during this tourist flight. On December 11th a total of 19 people were in space, the most ever, though only for a very short time. Ten were on ISS, three were on China’s space station, and then six were launched on a suborbital flight that day by Blue Origin.

The next commercial tourist flight on the schedule is February’s first Axiom flight to ISS, carrying three customers to ISS for eight days.

Russia launches two tourists to ISS

Capitalism in space: Using its Soyuz-2 rocket and Soyuz capsule, Russia today successfully launched two tourists to ISS.

Onboard the Soyuz is Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese billionaire known for starting online businesses Start Today and Zozo. In addition to his Soyuz mission, he has a circumlunar flight aboard SpaceX’s Starship—called “dearMoon”—booked for no earlier than 2023. Maezawa purchased both available seats on this flight of Soyuz. He [is] joined by Yozo Hirano—a media producer from Zozo—who will document the MS-20 mission. This flight will mark the first time two Japanese astronauts fly together, as well as the first flight of any Japanese space tourist.

The mission is commanded by experienced Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin, on what is his third spaceflight. During the mission, he will stand ready to pilot the Soyuz in case the automated guidance software fails.

The Russians claim that this is their first tourist flight to ISS since 2009, but that makes believe the two filmmakers launched to ISS in October were not paying passengers. They might have been working on ISS, and not merely tourists, but they were not professional astronauts but paying customers.

This flight however is the first organized with Russia by the American company Space Adventures since 2009, ending that long gap caused almost entirely because all Soyuz seats since then had been bought by NASA to replace the shuttle. With manned Dragon flights available, the Russians and Space Adventures can sell tickets again.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

46 China
27 SpaceX
21 Russia
6 Europe (Arianespace)

China still leads the U.S. 46 to 43 in the national rankings. With SpaceX and Rocket Lab launches set for later tonight, these numbers should rise again.

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