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.

Russians set December 8th for launch of next ISS tourist flight

Capitalism in space: Roscosmos today announced that the next tourist flight to ISS of two Japanese tourists will launch on December 8th.

“According to the Russian plan of ISS flight, the Soyuz-2.1A rocket carrying the Soyuz MS-20 transport spaceship with the 20th visiting ISS expedition on board is scheduled to lift off from the Baikonur cosmodrome at 10:38 am Moscow time [07:38 GMT] on December 8, 2021,” the agency said.

The crew will include Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin and two Japanese space tourists – billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and his assistant Yozo Hirano

Maezawa is also the man who has signed a deal with SpaceX to fly to the Moon on Starship, once that spacecraft is finished.

Russians certify Dragon for flying its astronauts

Capitalism in space: The head of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos, said yesterday that they have finally approved the use of SpaceX’s Dragon capsules to launch their astronauts to ISS.

Crew Dragon spaceships of Elon Musk’s SpaceX company have gained substantial experience for Russian cosmonauts to travel aboard them as part of cross flights, Head of Russia’s State Space Corporation Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin said on Monday. “From our viewpoint, SpaceX has gained sufficient experience for representatives of our crews to make flights aboard its spacecraft,” the Roscosmos chief told reporters at the 72nd international astronautical congress.

Russia will now begin barter negotiations for the future flights, whereby for each Russian that flies on Dragon an American will get a free flight on Soyuz.

Russian filmmakers safely return to Earth

Capitalism in space: A Russian Soyuz capsule safely returned three Russian astronauts to Earth today, including the two filmmakers that spent the last twelve days filming scenes on ISS for a movie.

Russian actress Yulia Peresild and producer Klim Shipenko landed with cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy of the Russian federal space corporation Roscosmos on Sunday (Oct. 17). The three descended aboard the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft to a touchdown at 12:35 a.m. EDT (0435 GMT or 10:35 a.m. local time) on the steppe of Kazakhstan.

The landing concluded 191 days in space for Novitskiy, who wrapped up his stay on the station by playing a bit part in the movie Peresild and Shipenko were there to film. A joint production of Roscosmos, the Russian television station Channel One and the studio Yellow, Black and White, “Вызов” (“Challenge” in English) follows the story of a surgeon (Peresild) who is launched to the station to perform emergency surgery on a cosmonaut (Novitskiy).

Thrusters on Soyuz docked to ISS fire improperly

The thrusters on the Soyuz capsule to be used to return the two filmmakers and one Russian astronaut back to Earth on October 17th would not stop firing when they were supposed to during routine testing in preparation for undocking.

From the NASA announcement, which by the way buried this event in the announcement’s eighth paragraph:

At 5:02 a.m. EDT today, Russian flight controllers conducted a scheduled thruster firing test on the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft that is scheduled to return to Earth Saturday night with three crew members aboard. The thruster firing unexpectedly continued after the end of the test window, resulting in a loss of attitude control for the International Space Station at 5:13 a.m. Within 30 minutes, flight controllers regained attitude control of the space station, which is now in a stable configuration. The crew was awake at the time of the event and was not in any danger.

Flight controllers are continuing to evaluate data on the station’s brief attitude change due to the thruster firing. NASA and Roscosmos are collaborating to understand the root cause.

According to the first link, the thrusters tilted the entire station 57 degrees from its correct orientation.

Not only do they not know why the thrusters did not shut down when commanded, they do not know why they eventually stopped firing. They suspect it was because the thrusters ran out of fuel, but this is not yet confirmed.

The Russians still plan to use this Soyuz to return the film crew in two days. The story does not say whether these thrusters are needed in any way to deorbit the capsule.

That’s the second uncontrolled thruster firing from a Russian spacecraft docked to ISS in less than three months. Yet, no such thing had occurred for many decades prior to this. In fact, the last such events that I can remember occurred in the 1960s.

Why such events are suddenly occurring now with such frequency is very concerning, to put it mildly. It brings to my mind the drilled hole in an earlier Soyuz capsule, a hole that was clearly drilled in Russia when the capsule was on the ground and then covered up so it was not detected until the capsule was docked to ISS. The Russians investigated, said they solved the mystery, but have never told anyone what that solution was.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, something is very rotten in Roscosmos.

Russia launches movie director and actor to ISS

Capitalism in space: Early today Russia successfully used its Soyuz-2 rocket and Soyuz capsule to launch a movie crew to ISS to begin a twelve day visit where they will film scenes for a science fiction movie.

An actress Yulia Peresild and a movie director Klim Shipenko arrived at the International Space Station aboard the Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft on Oct. 5, 2021, for a 12-day visit to shoot scenes of a sci-fi drama. They were accompanied by a professional cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, who had to switch to manual control during the final approach to the station due to a failure of the Kurs automated rendezvous system aboard Soyuz. Shkaplerov will remain aboard the station for nearly six months.

This is the second in a steady string of passenger commercial spaceflights that have been purchased by various people from either Roscosmos in Russia or SpaceX in the U.S. We shall see two more such flights in December, and another early in ’22, with additional flights to be scheduled beyond that. The full list, at this time:

  • September 15, 2021: SpaceX’s Dragon capsule flew four private citizens on a three day orbital flight
  • October 2021: The Russians launch two passengers to ISS for 12 days to shoot a movie
  • December 2021: The Russians will fly billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and his assistant to ISS for 12 days
  • cDecember 2021: Space Adventures, using a Dragon capsule, will fly four in orbit for five days
  • January/February 2022: Axiom, using a Dragon capsule, will fly four tourists to ISS
  • 2022-2024: Three more Axiom tourist flights on Dragon to ISS
  • 2024: Axiom begins launching its own modules to ISS, starting construction of its own private space station
  • c2024: SpaceX’s Starship takes Yusaku Maezawa and several others on a journey around the Moon.

Expect this list to grow. There appears to be plenty of demand for such commercial manned spaceflights, and with more flights and more competition (once Boeing’s Starliner enters the game) the cost will certainly drop.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

34 China
23 SpaceX
16 Russia
4 Northrop Grumman

With this launch Russia has now exceeded the number of launches it completed last year. If they complete all their presently scheduled launches for ’21, Roscosmos will have its best year since 2015.

The U.S still leads China 35 to 34 in the national rankings.

Roscosmos declares film crew fit for launch to ISS

Capitalism in space: Roscosmos last week announced that the actress and director who plan to fly to ISS in October to film scenes for a science fiction movie are fit to fly.

Director Klim Shipenko and actor Yulia Peresild got the thumbs-up after a meeting of the Chief Medical Commission at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center near Moscow, Russia’s federal space agency Roscosmos announced last week.

Cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, who is scheduled to launch toward the orbiting lab with Shipenko and Peresild aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft on Oct. 5, also got final medical clearance. So did the backups for the mission: cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev, director Alexey Dudin and actor Alena Mordovina.

The movie script itself, about an astronaut who gets a heart attack while on a spacewalk and then has to have surgery in space before returning to Earth, actually sounds quite good and — most refreshing — well grounded in reality. American space films tend to go in absurd directions, often because the filmmakers are ignorant and have no interest in learning anything about the subject they are writing about.

So far, the schedule of upcoming space tourist flights appears on track to happen, as announced:

  • September 15, 2021: SpaceX’s Dragon capsule flies four private citizens on a three day orbital flight
  • October 2021: The Russians will fly two passengers to ISS for 10 days to shoot a movie
  • December 2021: The Russians will fly billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and his assistant to ISS for 12 days
  • cDecember 2021: Space Adventures, using a Dragon capsule, will fly four in orbit for five days
  • January 2022: Axiom, using a Dragon capsule, will fly four tourists to ISS
  • 2022-2024: Three more Axiom tourist flights on Dragon to ISS
  • 2024: Axiom begins launching its own modules to ISS, starting construction of its own private space station
  • c2024: SpaceX’s Starship takes Yusaku Maezawa and several others on a journey around the Moon.

Russians accuse American astronaut of drilling hole in Soyuz

In several articles published today in the state-run Russian press, the Russians made the accusation that the hole and drilling damage that had been found on an in-orbit Soyuz capsule was put there by an American astronaut.

The first link above notes that while the Russians took a lie detector test, showing they didn’t drill the hole, the Americans refused. A second TASS link argues that their investigation proves that all the drill damage had to been done in orbit, for two reasons. First, they always test the capsule’s intergrity in a vacuum chamber before launch, and would have discovered it then. Second, the nature of the drill damage suggests it was done in zero gravity.

A third link provides an English translation of the more detailed Russian report, which made this direct accusation:

Firstly, the illness of the female astronaut, which is the first known incident of deep vein thrombosis in orbit, and the fact that Serena Maria Auñón-Chancellor had suffered the condition was published in a scientific article only after she had returned to Earth. This could have provoked ‘an acute psychological crisis’, which could have led to attempts by various means to speed up her return to the planet, according to my anonymous source. Secondly, for some reason unknown to Roscosmos, the video camera at the junction of the Russian and American segments was not working at that time. Thirdly, the Americans refused to perform a polygraph examination, while the Russian cosmonauts were polygraphed. Fourthly, Russia never had an opportunity to study the tools and the drill which are aboard the ISS to see if there are any signs of metal shavings from the hull of our ship’s orbital module.

This longer article also makes the claim that, because of the location of some of the drill attempts, whoever did drilling had no knowledge of the Soyuz’s construction.

All this may be true, but it conveniently ignores several very important facts: The one successful drillhole that caused the leak had been patched, which would have prevented any leak during the vacuum tests on the ground. The leak occurred because the patch was not designed to survive the hostile environment of space and eventually failed.

Also, the Russians’ own investigation had found that there was plenty of time on the ground for this sabotage to have occurred, so saying it had to have happened in space is incorrect.

Finally, the claim that the drill damage had to have been done in zero gravity is pure opinion, and hardly evidence.

In other words, it sounds as if the Russians are trying to shift blame from themselves (and an unknown ground worker) to an American astronaut. It is certainly possible that their claims are true, but they seem incredibly implausible. Much more likely would be sabotage on the ground by a very disgruntled Russian worker, routinely underpaid and resentful of the corruption that permeates Roscosmos and all of Russian society.

Such a conclusion however would be beyond embarrassing for the Putin government and the head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin. It is far better to place the blame on an American, especially because the end of the U.S.-Russian partnership on ISS is only a few years away.

Details on the Russian movie to be shot on ISS in October

Link here. The article provides a lot of details about who will fly, who will do what, and who is slated as back-ups if the primary crew of actress and director fail their training. However, I found the description of the movie to be the most interesting thing:

Shipenko revealed the script is still being fine-tuned, but the plot involves a cosmonaut who suffers a cardiac arrest during a spacewalk and, although he survives, he will require surgery to ensure he can handle the Soyuz return to Earth. A female cardiac surgeon, named Zhenya, has to be sent to the ISS to perform the procedure with only a few weeks to prepare for the trip.

Unlike the American space films like Gravity, this story is incredibly well grounded in reality. The Russians have actually experienced examples of station astronauts getting so sick in space that their missions had to be aborted early. In one case it was a prostate infection. In another it was the mental illness of the entire crew.

This story is also comparable to situations that have occurred in Antarctica, a very similar environment to the station. In the early 2000s the doctor in Antarctica had to perform surgery on herself because she had developed cancer. Then in 2016 Buzz Aldrin had to be evacuated due health issues.

If done right, this could not only make a damn good movie, it will also do so by revealing the true dangers of going to space.

Russia announces new tourist flight options to ISS

Capitalism in space: Russia has announced a range of new tourist flight options to ISS in an effort to compete against the new commercial tourist flights being offered by American companies.

Glavkosmos is offering space tourists the option of performing spacewalks from the International Space Station (ISS) and stays of up to 30 days aboard the orbital laboratory. They can even purchase the Soyuz space capsule that took them to and from the station.

The company, which is part of Roscosmos, recently upgraded its website to provide details of what paying customers can do when they book a trip to the station. The information is available in Russian and English.

You can see the English website here. It does not indicate what the prices are for these services, though it will have to be competitive with what SpaceX is charging in order to compete.

Side note: This story is on Doug Messier’s site Parabolic Arc, which is presently running a fund-raising campaign. Please consider donating. While Doug and I might disagree on many things, his work covering commercial space remains among the best on line.

NASA gives an American the seat on Dragon flight that it had been holding for Russian

NASA yesterday announced that it has added an American astronaut to the next manned mission to ISS, set for October.

NASA said that Kayla Barron will join the Crew-3 mission, launching on a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft scheduled for launch no earlier than Oct. 23. Barron joins NASA astronauts Raja Chari and Tom Marshburn, and European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer, who had been assigned to Crew-3 last December.

The Crew-3 mission will relieve the Crew-2 astronauts who arrived at the station on another Crew Dragon spacecraft April 24. The four Crew-3 astronauts will remain on the station for a six-month stay.

The space agency had been holding that seat open for a Russian, as part of its long term barter arrangement whereby in exchange for flying Americans on Soyuz capsules, Russia flies Russians on American spacecraft. That arrangement had been used repeatedly when the shuttle was flying, but since its retirement the U.S. has been forced to buy its seats on Soyuz as it had nothing to offer in exchange.

With the arrival of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule however NASA has been trying to get the Russians to renew that arrangement. And though an American, Mark Vande Hei, flew for free on a Soyuz last month, the Russians have as yet refused to assign their own astronaut to this upcoming October flight, despite months of negotiations. It appears NASA decided it could wait no longer, and filled the seat with its own astronaut.

In fact, the announcement by Roscosmos on May 13th that the next two Soyuz launches to ISS will carry two commercial passengers each means that Vande Hei cannot return on a Soyuz until next year. The seat he would have used to come home now must be used by these tourists, meaning his mission will now be extended to last for as much as a full year or more.

Unless of course NASA decides to bring him home on a Dragon capsule instead.

Roscosmos announces two commercial tourist flights to ISS

Capitalism in space: Roscosmos, the government corporation that controls of all of Russia’s space industry, announced today that it will be flying two different commercial tourist flights to ISS, both occurring before the end of this year.

The first will take place in October.

Roscosmos [is] sending an actress and a director to the ISS in October with the aim of making the first feature film in space. The film, whose working title is “Challenge,” is being co-produced by the flamboyant head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, and state-run network Channel One.

The second will take place in December, and will fly Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa (the man who has already purchased a Moon mission on SpaceX’s Starship) and his assistant Yozo Hirano in a Soyuz capsule to ISS for twelve days.

Let’s review the upcoming tourist flights now scheduled:
» Read more

Soyuz-2 launches three astronauts to ISS

Russia today successfully used its Soyuz-2 rocket to launch three astronauts to ISS.

Because this flight is occurring three days before the 60th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first human flight in space, the Russians gave the Soyuz capsule his name to honor him and the event. The spacecraft docked with ISS only two orbits later.

The crew also included an American, Mark Vande Hei, who is flying as part of the new barter agreement with Russia, whereby Americans fly in Soyuz in exchange for Russians flying in American commercial capsule. This was the first time NASA paid nothing for a flight on Soyuz since the shuttle retired a decade ago.

The return to Earth of Vande Hei and his fellow crew member Pyotr Dubrov will be on the next Soyuz capsule to launch in October, MS-19, in order to accommodate a short visit by a Russian movie director and actress.

Roscosmos will launch Soyuz MS-19 no earlier than October 5 with Commander Anton Shkaplerov and two civilian spaceflight participants. Russian film director Klim Shipenko and a Russian actress, who is yet to be named, will film a movie called “The Challenge” and spend approximately a week aboard the ISS before returning to Earth aboard Soyuz MS-18 with Novitsky.

With this commercial manned flight there will be two such flights in the fall, the Dragon Inspiration4 flight that will not dock with ISS and this Russian one. Both will then be followed by the Axiom commercial tourist flight on a Dragon capsule early in ’22. Expect such commercial manned flights to become somewhat routine in the coming years.

UPDATE: China also launched an Earth observation satellite yesterday, using its Long March 4B rocket
The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

10 SpaceX
8 China
6 Russia
2 Rocket Lab

The U.S. still leads China 14 to 8 in the national rankings.

NASA forges deal with private company to put American on Russian Soyuz

Capitalism in space: It appears NASA used the private company Axiom as its go-between to obtain a seat for an American astronaut on the next Soyuz launch to ISS in April.

The deal is very complex.

Based on the initial partnership arrangement between the Russians and NASA, astronauts for both countries would fly in equal numbers on each other’s spacecraft in a barter arrangement that involved no exchange of funds. Russia however has been balking at flying its astronauts on Dragon, claiming it does not yet meet their standards for a manned spacecraft. Thus, they have been demanding that NASA pay them to fly an American on Soyuz.

NASA meanwhile doesn’t have the funds, but it still wants to make sure there is always an American on board ISS, and to do that requires a second ferry besides Dragon to provide redundancy. With Boeing’s Starliner delayed, they have been trying to get a seat on Soyuz as part of that barter deal, to no avail.

The solution? Private enterprise! To get that Soyuz seat at no cost it appears NASA made a barter deal with the private space company Axiom. Axiom is apparently paying the Russians for a seat on next month’s Soyuz flight, which will be filled by a NASA astronaut, and gets in return from NASA a free spare seat on a later American capsule.

The result? NASA pays nothing to the Russians, and still gets its seat on Soyuz. Where Axiom is getting the financing for its purchase is unclear, but because it is getting an extra seat at no cost that it can sell later for a big profit, I suspect that financing was not difficult to obtain.

The details for Axiom’s deal with Roscosmos have not as yet been revealed, though I am sure the Russians charged Axiom plenty for the seat on Soyuz. I also suspect that amount was far less then what the Russians would have charged NASA directly.

Once Starliner finally becomes operational NASA will have enough redundancy for getting Americans to ISS it will no longer need the Russians. Hopefully that will happen by the end of this year. If so, such shenanigans will no longer be required.

Roscosmos head: Russia to launch 29 rockets in ’21

Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos, announced yesterday that they expect to complete 29 launches in 2021.

These numbers include all Russia’s launches, including the ones done for Arianespace in French Guiana. In my regular launch updates I don’t count those as Russian launches, as they are run and controlled by Arianespace, under Arianespace contracts.

Nonetheless, there should be an increase in the number of Russian launches in ’21, as they should resume OneWeb launches that were halted last year due to that company going into bankruptcy and then recovering. That bankruptcy meant that Russia’s total launches last year were less than half what they predicted.

The increase in ’21 does not mean Russia will successfully complete 29 launches. Rogozin and Roscosmos have for years routinely overstated their goals, and I think they are doing so again. I expect Russia to complete around 20-25 launches by the end of the year. If they top 25 it would make ’21 their best year since ’15.

Roscosmos’ commercial division to market tourist seats on Soyuz

The new colonial movement: Glavkosmos, the commercial division of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos, has announced that it is now making available for sale to passengers up to four seats on the Soyuz capsule.

Roscosmos has previously sold such seats through a long-standing relationship with American company Space Adventures. In December, Glavkosmos tweeted its plans to start selling seats, which a company spokesperson has since confirmed. “We assume that each crewed Soyuz MS spacecraft intended solely for commercial spaceflight will have two seats for space tourists” with a professional astronaut occupying the third seat, Glavkosmos spokesman Evgenii Kolomeets told SpaceNews. “In 2022-2023, with a favorable combination of circumstances, we can count on four seats aboard the commercial spacecraft for space tourists.”

The first dedicated Glavkosmos flight should be Soyuz MS-23 in the fall of 2022 to the ISS, with a second flight expected some time in 2023. “Commercial spacecraft and launch vehicles for the 2022-2023 launch campaigns are being manufactured, and specific mission numbers are assigned to spacecraft only after they are included in the flight program,” Kolomeets said.

If this happens, it will mean that at least three different entities — Axiom, Space Adventures, and Roscosmos — will be selling tourists flights into space. And that doesn’t even count possible flights on Boeing’s Starliner, once it becomes operational.

This competition is certain to force a drop in price, which in turn should increase the customer base, making more such flights possible.

Arianespace uses Soyuz rocket to launch French military satellite from French Guiana

Arianespace today successfully launched a French military reconnaissance satellite from French Guiana using a Russian Soyuz rocket.

This is the last launch for Europe in 2020, their sixth total. It is also the last publicly scheduled launch for the year. My annual worldwide launch report will follow in a day or so.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

35 China
25 SpaceX
15 Russia
6 Rocket Lab
6 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S.’s lead over China in the national rankings remains 40 to 35.

ISS crew returns safely to Earth in Soyuz

After a six month mission on ISS, three astronauts have safely landed on Earth in their Soyuz capsule.

Cassidy, Ivanishin and Vagner spent 196 days in orbit, having arrived at the station on April 9. They left behind NASA’s Kate Rubins and Roscosmos’ Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, who arrived at the orbiting outpost a week ago for a six-month stay.

Cassidy, returning from his third space mission, has now spent a total of 378 days in space, the fifth highest among U.S. astronauts.

While serving as the station’s commander, Cassidy welcomed SpaceX Demo-2 crew Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, the first NASA astronauts to launch to the space station on an American spacecraft from American soil since the retirement of the space shuttle fleet in 2011.

Cassidy and Behnken completed four spacewalks for a total of 23 hours and 37 minutes, becoming two of only four U.S. astronauts to complete 10 spacewalks.

The three astronauts still on board ISS now await the arrival of four astronauts on SpaceX’s Resilience capsule, scheduled for launch in early to mid-November. This will rise the crew on ISS to seven, which I think is the highest since the retirement of the shuttle in 2011.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

Soyuz successfully launches three astronauts to ISS

The Russians early today successfully launched three astronauts into orbit, using their Soyuz-2 rocket and Soyuz capsule.

The crew, heading to ISS, is two Russians and one American, with the American the last purchased seat bought by NASA on a Soyuz. Unless they sign a new deal with Russia, the next Americans to go to ISS must fly on American capsules.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

6 China
5 SpaceX
5 Russia
2 Europe

The U.S. continues to lead China 9 to 6 in the national rankings.

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.

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.

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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