[/caption]This may come as a surprise, but then again, it might not. Despite the recently signed US Congressional waiver of the Iran-North Korea-Syria Nonproliferation Act, allowing NASA to use the Russian Progress vehicle to send US supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) after Shuttle decommissioning in 2010, NASA has said that they will seek out US-based commercial launch options instead. NASA has lobbied the US government for months to allow them to continue using Russia’s launch capabilities, but since the recent launch success of US-based Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) Falcon 1 rocket on September 28th, hopes are high that this option will stop NASA’s dependence on Russia…
The Iran-North Korea-Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA) basically prevents entities in the US from doing business with Russia if Russia is doing business with Iran, North Korea or Syria to further their development of nuclear technology. However, one such US “entity” is NASA and the space agency has been working with Russia’s space program since the Act was signed in 2000 (even though it is known that Russia has been providing technology to Iran to pursue their nuclear ambitions). NASA has been able to do this by having the INKSNA waived by Congress. The current waiver was valid until 2011, so NASA has been pursuing a waiver extension to prevent the US from being barred from access to space after Shuttle retirement in 2011.
Although they are now legally entitled, NASA has now said that it will not require the use of the Russian Progress supply ships to deliver US supplies to the station, even after the successful signing of a waiver extension (until 2016) last week.
“NASA’s policy has not changed,” NASA spokesman David Steitz said last Thursday (October 2nd). “NASA will rely on U.S. commercial cargo services to resupply ISS following retirement of the shuttle, and does not intend to purchase Progress cargo services after 2011.”
This decision comes after the successful launch of the first ever commercial space vehicle on September 28th. SpaceX will have been relieved the fourth flight of the Falcon 1 rocket system operated flawlessly, proving to NASA that a dummy payload can be lifted into orbit by a private company. The previous flight (Flight 3, on August 2nd) suffered a stage separation anomaly, which caused the loss of two NASA satellite systems, NanoSail-D (a prototype solar sail) and PRESat (mini-laboratory to carry out tests on yeast cells).
Although NASA has announced there are no plans to use the Russian Progress spaceship beyond 2011, it is still an option if required. Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX is not concerned about NASA opting to use Progress over a US company’s launch system. “I think it’s probably a good thing NASA’s hands aren’t tied there. It’s possible we may lose a few flights to the Russians but we are not going to lose more than that. There is no way Congress would tolerate sending millions of dollars to the Russians rather than to a U.S. company and keeping that money domestic,” he said. Regardless of which political party is voted into government in November, Musk pointed out that, “…neither [U.S. political party] likes sending money overseas if there’s a U.S. supplier.”
According to today’s news release, the waiver still allows the use of the Russian Soyuz system (for manned missions to the ISS), which is fortunate as there is no other US manned option available…