Facing sanctions from the United States government, a high-ranking Russian official took to Twitter today (April 29) to express his frustration, warning that NASA has few options should Soyuz flights to the International Space Station cease.
“After analyzing the sanctions against our space industry, I suggest to the USA to bring their astronauts to the International Space Station using a trampoline,” wrote Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s deputy prime minister, in a Russian-language tweet highlighted by NBC News.
The jibe points to the fact that only the Russians can bring crews up to the space station right now. Rogozin also linked to a story in Russian RT where he is quoted as saying (if Google Translate is correct) that the Americans will see a “boomerang” of sanctions laid upon Russian officials.
The United States is dependent on the Russian Soyuz to bring astronauts to the space station. The U.S. method of transportation ceased in 2011 after the space shuttle retired, and commercial spacecraft — though being developed — are not expected to be ready until about 2017.
That said, one of the developers of these spacecraft — SpaceX CEO Elon Musk — wrote on Twitter that the public will soon see the unveiling of the human-rated Dragon spacecraft that the company has been working on with contract money from NASA. (The other funded spacecraft proposals are Boeing’s CST-100 and Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser).
Sounds like this might be a good time to unveil the new Dragon Mk 2 spaceship that @SpaceX has been working on w @NASA. No trampoline needed — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 29, 2014
Cover drops on May 29. Actual flight design hardware of crew Dragon, not a mockup.
The Russian situation is expected to weigh heavily on NASA budget discussions for fiscal 2014 and 2015 as agency officials try to make their case that commercial funding should be sustained, or even increased, for Americans to be able to launch from their own soil again quickly.
Imagine clinging on to the side of a rocket, somehow able to hang on despite the high speeds and diminishing oxygen. Looking down, this is what you’ll see — the view in the video above. This incredible sequence shows Sentinel-1a during its initial climb to orbit last week and, if you wait long enough, you can even see the separation of the third stage.
“Arianespace’s successful Soyuz Flight VS07 — which deployed Sentinel-1A to Sun-synchronous orbit — gave the world a front-row seat in space,” the company stated on YouTube. “Cameras mounted on the Soyuz’ Fregat upper stage captured the spectacular footage … as Sentinel-1A was separated at approximately 700 km [434 miles] above the Earth to commence its life in orbit.”
Sentinel-1a is the first of a series of environmental monitoring satellites overseen by the European Space Agency, a set that promises views of the Earth in high-definition.
Update, 8:33 p.m. EDT: The Soyuz spacecraft arrived safely at station at 7:53 p.m. EDT (11:53 a.m. UTC) and coverage of the hatch opening is scheduled at 10:15 p.m. EDT (2:15 a.m. UTC).
After spending an extra couple of days in the cramped Russian Soyuz spacecraft, the incoming International Space Station crew will likely be very be glad to get out and stretch their legs. You can check out the festivities live in the video link above.
Three people are set to make a docking with the orbiting complex at 7:58 p.m. EDT (11:58 p.m. UTC). If all goes to schedule, they’ll pop the hatch open at 10:40 p.m. EDT (2:40 a.m. UTC). Meanwhile, engineers are trying to figure out what caused the malfunction that prevented a docking as planned on Tuesday (March 25).
Remember that all schedules are subject to change, so tune into NASA TV well before each event happens.
The Expedition 39/40 crew lifted off Tuesday afternoon (EDT) from Kazakhstan to take a fast track to the space station that should have seen them dock on launch day. The Soyuz has to make three engine firings or burns to accomplish this. The docking was cancelled after the third burn did not happen as planned. The Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) has determined this was because the spacecraft was in the wrong orientation, but the underlying cause is still being investigated.
Once this happened, the crew switched to a standard backup procedure to bring them to the station in two days instead. (This path, in fact, was what all crews did up until last year.) The crew is safe and in good spirits heading up to the docking, NASA has said. The Soyuz has done several other engine firings since, with no incident.
The Soyuz crew includes Steve Swanson (NASA), Alexander Skvortsov (Roscosmos) and Oleg Artemyev (Roscosmos). Awaiting them on the station are Koichi Wakata (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), Rick Mastracchio (NASA) and Mikhail Tyurin (Roscosmos). Wakata is in command of the station, marking a first for Japan’s astronaut corps.
The crew was originally expected to dock with the station around 11 p.m. EDT (3 a.m. UTC), but an error with the spacecraft’s position in space prevented the engines from doing a third planned “burn” or firing to make that possible, NASA said in an update.
“At this point, the crew is in good shape and the vehicle appears to be in good shape,” said Kenny Todd, the space station’s operations integration manager, in an interview on NASA TV Wednesday morning (EDT). “At this point, everything looks real good.”
In fact, the spacecraft has done a couple of burns since to get it into the right spot for a docking Thursday evening, Todd added. (So it appears the crew just missed the window to get there on Tuesday night.) The underlying cause of the orientation problem was not mentioned in the interview, presumably because it’s still being investigated.
NASA is quite familiar with a two-day route to the space station as up until last year, all crews took two days to get to the space station. This took place for 14 years until a rapider method of reaching the orbiting complex within hours was introduced.
The crew includes Steve Swanson (NASA), Alexander Skvortsov (Roscosmos) and Oleg Artemyev (Roscosmos), who will join three people already on station when they arrive.
Current station residents Koichi Wakata (the commander, of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), Rick Mastracchio (NASA) and Mikhail Tyurin (Roscosmos) got to sleep in this morning and had some minor modifications to their schedule because of the docking delay, Todd added.
Instead of taking the day off as planned, the crew will do some work. A planned ISS software update for last night is going to be pushed “down the line”, Todd said, adding that the forthcoming SpaceX launch on Sunday and docking on Tuesday is still going ahead as planned.
We’ll provide more updates as the situation progresses. Docking is scheduled for 7:58 p.m. EDT (11:58 p.m. UTC) Thursday and will be covered on NASA Television.
What you see above is 32 minutes of something going wrong during each launch. While humanity has been launching things into space since the 1950s, you can see just how hard it is — over and over again. And when humans are riding aboard the rockets, the toll becomes more tragic.
According to the YouTube author of the video above, the vehicles shown include “V2, Vanguard TV3, Explorer S-1, Redstone 1, Titan I, Titan II, Titan IV, Atlas, Atlas-Centaur, N1, Delta, Delta III, Foton, Soyuz, Long March, Zenith, Space Shuttle Challenger, and more.”
Naturally, with each failure the engineers examine the systems and work to fix things for next time. A famous example is the Challenger shuttle explosion, which you can see about halfway through the video. There were multiple causes for the failure (human and technical), but one of them was an O-ring that failed in cold weather before the launch. NASA revised the launch rules and with contractors, made some changes to the booster rocket design, as a 2010 Air and Space Smithsonian article points out:
Freezing temperatures weakened an O-ring seal in a joint between two segments of the right booster. The weakness allowed hot gases to burn through the casing, causing the shuttle to break apart on ascent, which killed the seven-member crew. Two joints were redesigned with interlocking walls that had new bolts, pins, sensors, seals, and a third O-ring.
Still, launching is a risky business. That’s why it’s so important that engineers try to catch problems before they happen, and that as soon as a problem is seen, it’s fixed.
If your spaceship comes back in rural Kazakhstan, and it’s blowing snow, and rescue forces can’t get there right away, how would you survive the cold? This winter survival video below shows how cosmonauts and astronauts would leave the spacecraft and make shelter while waiting for help to arrive.
An even more complicated scenario would arise if the crew member was injured, explain European Space Agency astronauts Andreas Mogensen and Thomas Pesquet, who were reflecting on Mogensen’s survival training in January in the video.
The video shows crew members creating a makeshift brace for a broken arm, which would be painful — but would not necessarily inhibit walking. If it was a broken leg, other crew members would need to carry the injured person — slowing down the march if they needed to move to another location.
The action starts today around 4:30 p.m. EDT (8:30 p.m. UTC) with the hatch closure ceremony, which you can watch in the video, with landing expected at 11:24 p.m. EDT (3:24 a.m. UTC). We have full details of the schedule below the jump.
Expedition 38’s landing crew includes Russian astronauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy, and NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins. Kotov was the one in charge of the station while four spacewalks and hundreds of experiments took place, not to mention visits from three vehicles. This past weekend, he passed the baton to Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, making Wakata the first person from his country to assume control of station.
Farewells and hatch closure will start around 4:30 p.m. EDT (8:30 p.m. UTC) on NASA Television, with undocking occurring at 8:02 p.m. EDT (12:02 a.m. UTC.) As usual, the crew will be in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft for the landing, making their way back to an area near Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan. The deorbit burn will take place around 10:30 p.m. EDT (2:30 a.m. UTC), and landing at 11:24 p.m. EDT (3:24 a.m. UTC).
We recommend you tune into NASA TV slightly before each of these events, and to expect that the timing might be variable as mission events warrant. NASA’s full schedule (in central time) is at the bottom of this story.
The International Space Station (ISS) in low Earth orbit
The sole way for every American and station partner astronaut to fly to space and the ISS is aboard the Russian Soyuz manned capsule since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in 2011. There are currently NO alternatives to Russia’s Soyuz. Credit: NASA[/caption]
Virtually every aspect of the manned and unmanned US space program – including NASA, other government agencies, private aerospace company’s and crucially important US national security payloads – are highly dependent on Russian & Ukrainian rocketry and are therefore potentially at risk amidst the current Crimea crisis as tensions flared up dangerously in recent days between Ukraine and Russia with global repercussions.
The International Space Station (ISS), astronaut rides to space and back, the Atlas V and Antares rockets and even critical U.S. spy satellites providing vital, real time intelligence gathering are among the examples of programs that may be in peril if events deteriorate or worse yet, spin out of control.
The Crimean confrontation and all the threats and counter threats of armed conflicts and economic sanctions shines a spotlight on US vulnerabilities regarding space exploration, private industry and US national security programs, missions, satellites and rockets.
The consequences of escalating tensions could be catastrophic for all sides.
Many Americans are likely unaware of the extent to which the US, Russian and Ukrainian space programs, assets and booster rockets are inextricably intertwined and interdependent.
First, let’s look at America’s dependency on Russia regarding the ISS.
The massive orbiting lab complex is a partnership of 15 nations and five space agencies worldwide – including Russia’s Roscosmos and the US NASA. The station is currently occupied by a six person crew of three Russians, two Americans and one Japanese.
Since the forced retirement of NASA’s space shuttle program in 2011, America completely lost its own human spaceflight capability. So now the only ticket for astronauts to space and back is by way of the Russian Soyuz capsule.
American and station partner astronauts are 100% dependent on Russia’s three seat Soyuz capsule and rocket for rides to the ISS.
Russia has a monopoly on reaching the station because the shuttle was shut down by political ‘leaders’ in Washington, DC before a new U.S. manned space system was brought online.
And congressional budget cutters have repeatedly slashed NASA’s budget, thereby increasing the gap in US manned spaceflight launches from American soil by several years already.
Congress was repeatedly warned of the consequences by NASA and responded with further reductions to NASA’s budget.
In a continuation of the normal crew rotation routines, three current crew members are set to depart the ISS in a Soyuz and descend to Earth on Monday, March 10.
Coincidentally, one of those Russian crew members, Oleg Kotov, was actually born in Crimea when it was part of the former Soviet Union.
A new three man crew of two Russians and one American is set to blast off in their Soyuz capsule from Russia’s launch pad in Kazakhstan on March 25.
The U.S. pays Russia $70 million per Soyuz seat under the most recent contact, while American aerospace workers are unemployed.
The fastest and most cost effective path to restore America’s human spaceflight capability to low Earth orbit and the ISS is through NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) seeking to develop private ‘space taxis’ with Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada.
Alas, Congress has sliced NASA’s CCP funding request by about 50% each year and the 1st commercial crew flight to orbit has consequently been postponed by more than three years.
So it won’t be until 2017 at the earliest that NASA can end its total dependence on Russia’s Soyuz.
A sensible policy to eliminate US dependence on Russia would be to accelerate CCP, not cut it to the bone, especially in view of the Crimean crisis which remains unresolved as of this writing.
If U.S. access to Soyuz seats were to be cut off, the implications would be dire and it could mean the end of the ISS.
When NASA Administrator Chales Bolden was asked about contingencies at a briefing yesterday, March 4, he responded that everything is OK for now.
“Right now, everything is normal in our relationship with the Russians,” said Bolden.
“Missions up and down are on target.”
“People lose track of the fact that we have occupied the International Space Station now for 13 consecutive years uninterrupted, and that has been through multiple international crises.”
“I don’t think it’s an insignificant fact that we are starting to see a number of people with the idea that the International Space Station be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.”
But he urged Congress to fully fund CCP and avoid still more delays.
“Let me be clear about one thing,” Bolden said.
“The choice here is between fully funding the request to bring space launches back to the US or continuing millions in subsidies to the Russians. It’s that simple. The Obama administration chooses investing in America, and we believe Congress will choose this course as well.”
Now let’s examine a few American rockets which include substantial Russian and Ukrainian components – without which they cannot lift one nanometer off the ground.
The Atlas V rocket developed by United Launch Alliance is the current workhorse of the US expendable rocket fleet.
Coincidentally the next Atlas V due to blastoff on March 25 will carry a top secret spy satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).
The Atlas V first stage however is powered by the Russian built and supplied RD-180 rocket engine.
Several Air Force – DOD satellites are launched on the Atlas V every year.
What will happen to shipments of the dual nozzle, dual chamber RD-180’s manufactured by Russia’s NPO Energomesh in the event of economic sanctions or worse? It’s anyone’s guess.
ULA also manufactures the Delta IV expendable rocket which is virtually all American made and has successfully launched numerous US national security payloads.
The Antares rocket and Cygnus resupply freighter developed by Orbital Sciences are essential to NASA’s plans to restore US cargo delivery runs to the ISS – another US capability lost by voluntarily stopping shuttle flights. .
Orbital Sciences and SpaceX are both under contract with NASA to deliver 20,000 kg of supplies to the station. And they both have now successfully docked their cargo vehicles – Cygnus and Dragon – to the ISS.
The first stage of Antares is built in Ukraine by the Yuzhnoye Design Bureau and Yuzhmash.
And the Ukrainian booster factory is located in the predominantly Russian speaking eastern region – making for an even more complicated situation.
By contrast, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo vessel is virtually entirely American built and not subject to economic embargoes.
At a US Congressional hearing held today (March 5) dealing with national security issues, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk underscored the crucial differences in availability between the Falcon 9 and Atlas V in this excerpt from his testimony:
“In light of Russia’s de facto annexation of the Ukraine’s Crimea region and the formal severing of military ties, the Atlas V cannot possibly be described as providing “assured access to space” for our nation when supply of the main engine depends on President Putin’s permission, said Space X CEO and founder Elon Musk, at the US Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing on Defense.
So, continuing operations of the ISS and US National Security are potentially held hostage to the whims of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russia has threatened to retaliate with sanctions against the West, if the West institutes sanctions against Russia.
The Crimean crisis is without a doubt the most dangerous East-West conflict since the end of the Cold War.
Right now no one knows the future outcome of the crisis in Crimea. Diplomats are talking but some limited military assets on both sides are reportedly on the move today.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, Orion, commercial space, Chang’e-3, LADEE, Mars and more planetary and human spaceflight news.
In the early pre-dawn hours on December 19, 2013, with a rumble and a roar, a Soyuz rocket blazed through the clouds above the jungle-lined coast of French Guiana, ferrying ESA’s long-awaited Gaia spacecraft into orbit and beginning its mission to map the stars of the Milky Way. The fascinating time-lapse video above from ESA shows the Gaia spacecraft inside the clean room unfurling like a flower during its sunshield deployment test, the transfer of the Soyuz from the assembly building to the pad, and then its ultimate fiery liftoff.
That’s a lot going on in two minutes! But once nestled safely in its L2 orbit 1.5 million kilometers out, Gaia will have over five years to complete its work… read more here.
Credit: ESA–S. Corvaja, M. Pedoussaut, 2013. Source: ESA
Early this morning, at 09:12 UTC, the cloudy pre-dawn sky above the coastal town of Kourou, French Guiana was brilliantly sliced by the fiery exhaust of a Soyuz VS06, which ferried ESA’s “billion-star surveyor” Gaia into space to begin its five-year mission to map the Milky Way.
Ten minutes after launch, after separation of the first three stages, the Fregat upper stage ignited, successfully delivering Gaia into a temporary parking orbit at an altitude of 175 km (108 miles). A second firing of the Fregat 11 minutes later took Gaia into its transfer orbit, followed by separation from the upper stage 42 minutes after liftoff. 46 minutes later Gaia’s sunshield was deployed, and the spacecraft is now cruising towards its target orbit around L2, a gravitationally-stable point in space located 1.5 million km (932,000 miles) away in the “shadow” of the Earth.
The launch itself was really quite beautiful, due in no small part to the large puffy clouds over the launch site. Watch the video below:
A global space astrometry mission, Gaia will make the largest, most precise three-dimensional map of our galaxy by surveying more than a billion stars over a five-year period.
“Gaia promises to build on the legacy of ESA’s first star-mapping mission, Hipparcos, launched in 1989, to reveal the history of the galaxy in which we live,” says Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA’s Director General.
Repeatedly scanning the sky, Gaia will observe each of the billion stars an average of 70 times each over the five years. (That’s 40 million observations every day!) It will measure the position and key physical properties of each star, including its brightness, temperature and chemical composition.
By taking advantage of the slight change in perspective that occurs as Gaia orbits the Sun during a year, it will measure the stars’ distances and, by watching them patiently over the whole mission, their motions across the sky.
The motions of the stars can be put into “rewind” to learn more about where they came from and how the Milky Way was assembled over billions of years from the merging of smaller galaxies, and into “fast forward” to learn more about its ultimate fate.
“Gaia represents a dream of astronomers throughout history, right back to the pioneering observations of the ancient Greek astronomer Hipparchus, who catalogued the relative positions of around a thousand stars with only naked-eye observations and simple geometry. Over 2,000 years later, Gaia will not only produce an unrivaled stellar census, but along the way has the potential to uncover new asteroids, planets and dying stars.”
– Alvaro Giménez, ESA’s Director of Science and Robotic Exploration
Of the one billion stars Gaia will observe, 99% have never had their distances measured accurately. The mission will also study 500,000 distant quasars, search for exoplanets and brown dwarfs, and will conduct tests of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.
“Along with tens of thousands of other celestial and planetary objects,” said ESA’s Gaia project scientist Timo Prusti, “this vast treasure trove will give us a new view of our cosmic neighbourhood and its history, allowing us to explore the fundamental properties of our Solar System and the Milky Way, and our place in the wider Universe.”