Ferguson: Starliner Flight Test in September “Looking Good”

Boeing’s Starliner prepares for acoustic testing at Boeing’s spacecraft test facilities in El Segundo, California. This vehicle, known as Spacecraft 2, will fly Starliner’s Crew Flight Test after it returns to Florida from environmental testing. (Credits: Boeing)

News 6 interviewed Boeing’s Chris Ferguson on Saturday about the status of the company’s effort to launch its Starliner commercial crew vehicle to the International Space Station (ISS) this year:

“We have an uncrewed test flight here in September. It’s looking very good. We were working late into the night last night doing test work, 24/7 operations,” Ferguson said. “We are in the final push and I’m optimistic that you’re going to see humans return to space from the Space Coast within the next several months. It’s been a long time.”


After the uncrewed test flight, Boeing will also need to complete a launch abort test with the spacecraft before it can launch astronauts. During the abort test, ULA will launch the capsule and trigger an abort, which will send the capsule away from the rocket testing the system designed to carry the astronauts to safety.

Ferguson will pilot Starliner, with NASA astronauts Nicole Aunapu Mann and Mike Fincke, to the space station on its first crewed test flight.

“I’ve learned to not count my chickens early but I’m optimistic this year is going to be a very good year for the Boeing team,” Ferguson said.

NASA TV to Cover Return of Space Station Crew on Monday

NASA astronaut Anne McClain, Roscosmos astronaut Oleg Kononenko and Candian Space Agency astronaut David Saint Jacques in the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA astronaut Anne McClain and two crewmates on the International Space Station are scheduled to conclude their stay aboard the orbiting laboratory Monday, June 24. Live coverage of their return will begin at 3:30 p.m. EDT on NASA Television and the agency’s website.


Russia Led in Launch Successes and Failures in 2015

Flight VS13 was the 13th Soyuz liftoff performed from French Guiana since this vehicle’s 2011 introduction at the Spaceport. (Credit: Arianespace)
Flight VS13 was the 13th Soyuz liftoff performed from French Guiana since this vehicle’s 2011 introduction at the Spaceport. (Credit: Arianespace)

Russia continued its dominance of the global satellite launch industry in 2015, conducting 29 of 86 orbital launches over the past 12 months. It also maintained its lead in botched launches, suffering two failures and one partial failure.


After Sarah Brightman, Will Sergey Brin Fly to the International Space Station?

Sergey Brin
Sergey Brin

Google co-founder Sergey Brin could be the next space tourist to journey to the International Space Station.

Space Adventures President Tom Shelley told Reuters that Brin, whose net worth is $30.2 billion, has put down a deposit on a seat aboard a future Soyuz flight to the orbiting laboratory.

“He paid us a deposit and whenever we have a seat available, he has the right of first refusal,” Shelley said.

Shelley said the company could have an open seat in 2017.

Brin and co-founder Larry Page have a deep interest in space. Their company has sponsored the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize for the first private company to land a rover on the surface of the moon. This week, Google announced the purchase of Skybox Imaging, which provides images of the Earth from space. The company also is reportedly developing a satellite network to provide high-speed broadband services on a global basis.

Before Brin flies, British soprano Sarah Brightman, will pay $52 million for a 10-day trip to the space station in September 2015. She will be the ninth person to visit ISS as a tourist since Space Adventures sent Dennis Tito there in 2002.  Brightman plans to sing during her orbital trip.

Brightman is in a race with Lady Gaga to be the first professional singer to perform in space. For more on that story, click here.


NASA Cuts off Non-ISS Related Contact With Russia

Capitol Building
NASA has cut off most of its cooperation with the Russian government except activities related to the operation of the International Space Station. In an unusually blunt statement, the space agency blamed Congress for delaying U.S. crew flights to the orbiting outpost:

Given Russia’s ongoing violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, NASA is suspending the majority of its ongoing engagements with the Russian Federation.  NASA and Roscosmos will, however, continue to work together to maintain safe and continuous operation of the International Space Station. NASA is laser focused on a plan to return human spaceflight launches to American soil, and end our reliance on Russia to get into space.  This has been a top priority of the Obama Administration’s for the past five years, and had our plan been fully funded, we would have returned American human spaceflight launches – and the jobs they support – back to the United States next year.  With the reduced level of funding approved by Congress, we’re now looking at launching from U.S. soil in 2017.  The choice here is between fully funding the plan to bring space launches back to America or continuing to send millions of dollars to the Russians.  It’s that simple.  The Obama Administration chooses to invest in America – and we are hopeful that Congress will do the same.

Editor’s Note: This statement is aimed as much (or more) at Congress as the Russians. And it nails the point succinctly. There is a clear and workable solution that would allow us to end our dependence on Russia and restore our proud heritage in human spaceflight. Congress has been response for delaying its implementation. And that needs to end.

Garver: We Need Full Funding on Commercial Crew

Deputy NASA Administrator Lori Garver
Deputy NASA Administrator Lori Garver

Last week, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver met with reporters after giving a keynote address at the NewSpace 2013 Conference in San Jose, Calif. Below is an excerpt of the conversation relating to the space Agency’s Commercial Crew program.

Parabolic Arc will run other excerpts from the discussion on the Asteroid Retrieval Mission and International Space Station in the days ahead.

Q. On a little different subject from the asteroid mission, you talked about commercial crew. In the past, you know you’ve talked for the need for full funding for commercial crew in FY 14. If you end up with something closer to what the House is offering, $500 million, or worse a CR [continuing resolution] and another round of sequestration, what does that do to the program looking forward? Can you protect the 2017 date [for commercial service] any longer, or does it shift out?


Research into Immune System Conducted on ISS

ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter performing a cell  experiment aboard the International Space Station. (Credit: ESA)
ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter performing a cell experiment aboard the International Space Station. (Credit: ESA)

PARIS, ESA PR (4 February 2013) — Living in space weakens astronauts’ immune systems, researchers have discovered. The findings are providing clues on how to tackle diseases on Earth before symptoms appear.

Ever since the first humans ventured into space we have known that astronauts can suffer from common infections that would be quickly dealt with by healthy people on Earth. Until now, it was not clear what was blocking astronauts’ immune systems from working normally.


China Surpassed U.S. in Launches, Payloads in 2012

By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

China’s surging space program moved into second place in 2012 in terms of both orbital launches and payloads, passing the United States and inching closer to Russia.

China successfully launched 19 rockets last year, placing a total of 30 payloads into orbit, according to an annual report released by the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST). Russia led all nations with 34 payloads on 24 launches, while the United States came in third with 28 payloads on 13 launches.

NASA To Test Bigelow Expandable Module On Space Station

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver and President and founder of Bigelow Aerospace Robert T. Bigelow talk while standing next to the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) during a media briefing where is was announced that the BEAM expandable space habitat technology will be tested on the International Space Station, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013 in Las Vegas. BEAM is scheduled to arrive at the space station in 2015 for a two-year technology demonstration. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)
NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver and President and founder of Bigelow Aerospace Robert T. Bigelow talk while standing next to the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) during a media briefing where is was announced that the BEAM expandable space habitat technology will be tested on the International Space Station, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013 in Las Vegas. BEAM is scheduled to arrive at the space station in 2015 for a two-year technology demonstration. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

LAS VEGAS (NASA PR) — NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver announced Wednesday a newly planned addition to the International Space Station that will use the orbiting laboratory to test expandable space habitat technology. NASA has awarded a $17.8 million contract to Bigelow Aerospace to provide a Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), which is scheduled to arrive at the space station in 2015 for a two-year technology demonstration.


Roscosmos Chief: Extreme Measures Needed to Save Russian Space Industry — UPDATED

Roscosmos Head Vladimir Popovkin. (Credit: Roscosmos)

Roscosmos head Vladimir Popovkin says “extreme measures” are required to prevent the Russian space industry from becoming competitive uncompetitive with Western nations where productivity is two to four times higher.

“If nothing changes, we won’t be able to sell [Russian space technology] in 2015, because Western equipment will be priced 33 to 50 percent lower,” Popovkin said.

In order to raise productivity, Roscosmos ought to be converted into a space industry holding company that is not under direct state control. The new structure would be able to optimize headcounts at enterprises in the sector and better compete to hire the best people, he said.

Popovkin suggested that the “lower stages” in the production chain should pass into private hands, and called for a fundamental shift in the state’s focus from producing a final product to providing conditions conducive to success.

Read the full story.

UPDATE:  James Oberg has written a much more detailed account of remarks that Popovkin gave at an engineering institute on Thursday as well as complaints by Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, who returned from the International Space Station on Sept. 17, about conditions aboard the Russian segment of the facility. The highlights:

  • Popovkin’s remarks on competitiveness were aimed squarely at Western commercial rocket efforts such as SpaceX’s Falcon 9, which he worries will make Russia’s launchers uncompetitive within three or four years. (Although Oberg doesn’t mention it, Musk has made a similar prediction.)
  • The launch industry, which is a legacy of the Soviet era, is one of the few segments where Russia is competitive and earns money. It’s collapse would have very severe consequences on the Russian space program.
  • Officials have little idea of what to do with the sprawling aerospace industrial base left over from the Soviet era. The industry has too much capacity and a workforce that is too large and too old, leading to inefficiency and a lack of competitiveness. The technology base also is completely outdated.
  • Russia must simultaneously reduce the number of space companies and workers while attracting new, younger talent that has avoided working in the industry over the past 20 years.
  • Padalka said conditions are so spartan on the Russian segment of the space station, especially compared with the U.S. segment, that he compared them to “khrushchevka,” the derisive nickname given to the massive and uncomfortable apartment buildings constructed in the 1960’s under Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.
  • Padalka said that without improvements, the year-long missions that Russia wants to fly to the space station are completely unacceptable. These flights are designed to free up seats on Soyuz spacecraft for tourists who pay tens of millions of dollars for short stays aboard the orbiting laboratory.

CSF Backs Full Utilization of International Space Station

International Space Station

Washington D.C. (CSF PR) – Michael Lopez-Alegria, President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, testified Wednesday morning before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Science and Space at a hearing entitled “Risks, Opportunities, and Oversight of Commercial Space.” Among the topics discussed at the hearing were risk-sharing, regulation, NASA’s Commercial Crew and the International Space Station.


NASA Budget: New Year, Same Old Senate (and House)

By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and related agencies (CJS) has finished marking up the FY 2013 budget. Looks like much of the same, with money ladled on massively expensive programs and a $305 million reduction in the President’s request for commercial crew:  [Update: The House has weighed in with its own budget, which does the same thing in a more extreme fashion — see below]

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is funded at $19.4 billion, an increase of $1.6 billion over the fiscal year 2012 enacted level. The large increase results from a reorganization of operational weather satellite procurement from NOAA into NASA. Without the funds for weather satellite procurement, this level represents a $41.5 million cut from the fiscal year 2012 enacted level.

Funding for the development of the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle is $1.2 billion, the same as fiscal year 2012. Heavy lift Space Launch System (SLS) development is funded at $1.5 billion, $21 million less than fiscal year 2012. The bill also provides $244 million for construction needed to build, test, and operate Orion and SLS. Commercial crew development is provided $525 million, an increase of $119 million above fiscal year 2012.


Dextre’s Log: Robotic Refueling Mission Day 1

Four different views of Dextre as the robotic handyman removes the Wire-Cutting Tool from the Robotic Refueling Module on board the International Space Station (Source: NASA/CSA).

(CSA PR) Day 1 — The first day of Dextre’s most demanding mission wrapped up successfully on March 7 as the robotic handyman completed his three assigned tasks. Dextre successfully retrieved, inspected and stowed three of the four specialized tools built specifically for the Robotic Refueling Mission by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre. After thorough checkouts, Dextre confirmed that the Safety Cap Tool, the Wire Cutter and Blanket Manipulation Tool and the Multifunction Tool passed mechanical and electrical functional checkouts and are ready for future operations.

Work continues today on the International Space Station when Dextre will perform the most intricate task ever attempted by a space robot. The 3.7-metre-high Dextre will use one of his new tools to slide a miniature hook under a wire with only about one millimetre of clearance—a maneuver that will require surgical precision while the robot combats the harsh temperature and dynamic lighting changes in space and the oscillations stemming from his perch on the end of Canadarm2.

CSA Extends MDA Contract for ISS Support

Richmond, B.C. (MDA PR) – MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd., a provider of essential information solutions, announced today that it has signed a contract amendment worth CA$14.7 million with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) for logistics and sustaining engineering requirements for the Mobile Servicing System. This amendment extends the work through March 2013, bringing the total contract value to CA $152.7 million.