Tianzhou-2 Cargo Ship Departs China’s Tiangong Space Station

The Tianzhou-2 cargo ship departed the Tianhe core module of China’s space station on Sunday after 10 months in space, the Xinhua news agency reported. Controllers plan to send the vehicle to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere at an unspecified time.

Tianzhou-2 was launched with 6.6 metric tons of supplies and fuel from Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on May 29, 2021. The vehicle was the first cargo ship sent to China’s first permanent space station.

Tianzhou-2 carried 6,640 kg (14,639 lb) of cargo to the station, including 4,690 kg (10,340 lb) of pressurized cargo and 1,950 kg (4,299 lb) of fuel. The module measures 10.6 m x 3.35 m (34.8 ft x 11 ft) and has two solar panels.

Tianzhou-2 was originally docked to Tiangong’s aft docking port. Last September, the vehicle was moved to the forward docking port after the station’s first crew returned to Earth aboard the Shenzhou 12 spacecraft. In January, the crew of Shenzhou 13 crew tested Tiangong’s robotic by moving Tianzhou-2 to and from a radial docking port.

The Tianzhou-3 cargo ship remains docked to the space station. The Shenzhou-13 crew — Zhai Zhigang, Wang Yaping, Ye Guangfu — are set to return to Earth next month after approximately six months in space. The launches of the Tianzhou-4 cargo ship and Shenzhou-14 crew ship are scheduled for May.

Russia’s Changing Story on ISS and its New Space Station

The International Space Station, photographed by ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli following the undocking of his Soyuz-TMA on 23 May 2011. (Credit: ESA/NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Well, this is interesting. And by interest, I mean what cynics had been predicting all along.

In the space of a couple of weeks, Russia’s plan for the future of the International Space Station (ISS) shifted from full withdrawal in 2025, to gradual withdrawal and the launch of a new Russian-only station beginning in 2025, to we’re fine with extending ISS to 2028 and we’ll start launching our new station then.

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XCOR Lays off Remaining Employees

Lynx engine hot fire. (Credit: XCOR)

Struggling XCOR Aerospace has laid off its remaining employees in Mojave, Calif. and Midland, Texas.

“Due to adverse financial conditions XCOR had to terminate all employees as of 30 June 2017,” the company said in a statement. “XCOR management will retain critical employees on a contract basis to maintain the company’s intellectual property and is actively seeking other options that would allow it to resume full employment and activity.”

The move follows the news last month that CEO Jay Gibson was leaving the company after President Donald Trump nominated him for a high-level position at the Department of Defense. Gibson left the company at the end of June.

XCOR hired Gibson in March 2015 to replace founder Jeff Greason. The objective was for Gibson to focus on the business side while Greason focused on completing construction on the two-seat Lynx suborbital space plane.

That arrangement did not work out. By November, Greason and two other founders, Dan DeLong and Aleta Jackson, had left the company to found Agile Aerospace.

Greason, DeLong, Jackson and Doug Jones founded the company in 1999 after being laid off from Rotary Rocket.

In May 2016, XCOR laid off about 25 employees — roughly half of its workforce — and suspended work on the Lynx. The company has since refocused its energies on its rocket engine work.

XCOR had been working on an upper stage for United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan launch vehicle.

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Trump, Musk, Bezos, Bruno & the Future of America’s Space Program

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)
Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

There’s been a lot of speculation since the election on  what president-elect Donald Trump will do with the nation’s civilian and military space programs.

Two Trump advisors laid out some goals before the election: more commercial partnerships, boosting defense spending, increasing hypersonics and slashing NASA Earth science. However, most details remain unclear.

A key question is whether Trump really cares about space all that much. That’s a little hard to discern given his comments during  the campaign.

When first questioned on the subject, he expressed a preference for fixing potholes in America’s crumbling streets over sending people to Mars. Trump has promised a large infrastructure repair program.

During a visit to Florida, he attacked the Obama Administration for allegedly wrecking NASA and the space program. During another appearance in the Sunshine State about a week later, Trump praised the space agency for how well it was performing.

So, NASA is either doing great, a disaster that needs to be made great again, or an obstacle to pothole repair. Assuming Trump actually cares, and he’s willing to spend some money on making NASA great again, what might he do? What major decisions does he face?
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Soyuz Prepared for Historic Tuesday Launch

Russian technicians have rolled out a Soyuz rocket to the launch pad for an historic liftoff that will send the first South Korean and the first second-generation cosmonaut into orbit.

Yi So-yeon, a South Korean bioengineering student, will join cosmonauts Sergei Volkov and Oleg Kononenko on a Soyuz TMA-12 flight to the International Space Station.

Volkov is the first second-generation space explorer. His father Alexander logged 391 days in space on three flights during the 1980’s and 1990’s. He was on hand Saturday to watch his son’s Soyuz rocket rolled out to the launch pad under a clear blue sky.