A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report says NASA’s commercial crew contractors face potential further delays into 2019 for certifying their vehicles to carry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) on a commercial basis.
“Boeing has proposed moving its certification review out to the fourth quarter of 2018—at least 14 months later than initially planned,” the report states. “SpaceX has moved its certification review to the third quarter of 2018—at least 15 months later than initially planned. (more…)
HOUSTON (NASA PR) — After a six-hour flight, NASA astronaut Jack Fischer and cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos arrived at the International Space Station at 9:18 a.m. EDT Thursday where they will continue important scientific research.
The two launched aboard a Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:13 a.m. (1:13 p.m. Baikonur time), orbited Earth four times, and docked at the space station.
Tassreports that Roscosmos plans to conduct two satellite launches in December from Russia’s new Vostochny Cosmodrome as the space agency continues a slow shift away from dependence on the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazahkstan.
The two Soyuz-2 launches will come about 20 months after the inaugural launch from the new spaceport in April 2016.
Roscomos head Igor Komarov outlined plans to gradually ramp up the number of launches from the facility, which has only one launch pad.
The state corporation expects that up to ten launches, including commercial ones, will be held annually at Vostochny, which is still under construction.
First commercial launches from Russia’s new Vostochny space center in the Far Eastern Amur Region are to begin in 2018, the head of Russia’s Roscosmos space corporation said. The space center’s commercial launch plan includes those for the OneWeb project aimed at creating a constellation of microsatellites to blanket the entire earth surface for broadband internet access all over the world.
“Two or three commercial launches are scheduled for 2018, six or seven – for 2019,” the Roscosmos chief said….
Vostochny’s construction began in 2012. The infrastructure for the first unmanned Angara carrier rocket launch is due to be ready by 2021, and for the first manned Angara mission by 2023.
HOUSTON (NASA PR) — Expedition 50 Commander Shane Kimbrough of NASA is among three crew members from the International Space Station (ISS) who returned to Earth Monday, after 173 days in space, landing in Kazakhstan at approximately 7:20 a.m. EDT (5:20 p.m. Kazakhstan time).
RSC Energia has launched the development of a new human spacecraft named Federatsiya (Federation) that will replace the 40-year-old Soyuz vehicles and enable Russia to send cosmonauts to the moon, Tassreports.
Federation will be capable of carrying crews of four into Earth orbit and deep space on missions of up to 30 days. The spacecraft could stay in space up to a year if docked with a space station, which is double the duration of the Soyuz spacecraft.
The new spacecraft could be a key element in what appears to be an emerging plan to place a space station in lunar orbit. NASA is exploring such a facility to test technologies required for sending astronauts to Mars.
Speaking a day after SpaceX successfully re-flew a previously used Falcon 9 first stage, Russian space officials sought to reassure the public about the nation’s lagging launch rate and outlined plans to increase revenues from the International Space Station (ISS).
“We will conduct at least 30 launches from the Baikonur, Plesetsk, Vostochny and Kourou space centers this year,” Komarov said at a meeting of the Expert Council of Russia’s Military-Industrial Committee.
With one quarter of the year completed, Russia has conducted two launches.
Khrunichev’s Proton rocket, which has been grounded since an in-flight anomaly last June, continues to experience serious problems with quality control, Russian media reported last week.
An investigation into quality control issues in the Russian space industry has discovered that nearly every engine currently stockpiled for use in Proton rockets is defective, the RIA Novosti news agency reported March 30, citing Igor Arbuzov, head of state rocket engine manufacturer Energomash.
71 engines, mostly used to power the second and third stages of the Proton rocket, require complete overhauls to remove defects. Arbuzov did not specify what was wrong with the engines….
“Most of the work will be done in 2017, but we understand that some portion will inevitably slip into 2018,” Arbuzov said. “Our main goal is to avoid disrupting the government space program’s launch schedule, or the schedules of the Defense Ministry and commercial customers.”
In January, Russian officials said they were investigating quality control problems at the Voronezh Mechanical Plant where engines for the Proton and Soyuz boosters are manufactured. Specifically, they believed a less heat resistant metal had been used in second- and third-stage engines.
Russian media reported last week that Progress Space Rocket Center, which manufacturers Soyuz boosters, had received four tested third-stage engines from the Voronezh Mechanical Factory.
Last June, a Proton rocket suffered a second-stage anomaly while launching the Intelsat 31 communications satellite. The third stage compensated for the under performance of the second stage, delivering the spacecraft to its intended orbit.
In December, a Progress freighter bound for the International Space Station was lost after a Soyuz rocket malfunctioned.
Proton and Soyuz are the mainstays of the Russian booster fleet. Due to the on-going problems, Russia has only launched only twice during the first quarter of a year during which officials have promised to launch at least 30 times.
Last year, Russia conducted 18 successful launches in 19 attempts. It was the country’s lowest launch figure in years, leaving the nation in third place behind the United States and China.
The Annual Compendium of Commercial Space Transportation: 2017 Federal Aviation Administration Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA AST)
2016 Launch Events
Space launch activity worldwide is carried out by the civil, military, and commercial sectors. This section summarizes U.S. and international orbital launch activities for calendar year 2016, including launches licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA AST). Countries and jurisdictions worldwide that possess functional and operating indigenous launch industries are the United States, Russia, China, European Union, India, Japan, Israel, Iran, North Korea, and South Korea. Several other countries, including Argentina, Brazil, and Indonesia, are developing launch vehicle technologies.
WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — A new agreement to purchase flights from Boeing to the International Space Station on a Soyuz spacecraft will allow NASA to maximize time dedicated to scientific research by increasing crew size on the U.S. segment from three to four. The additional flights will take place in 2017 and 2018. The agreement includes an option to be exercised by fall 2017 for additional seats in 2019. The 2019 seats could be used to smooth transition to U.S. commercial transportation services.
While Russia retired its Soyuz-U rocket with one final flight on Wednesday after 44 years and 787 launches, a couple of other programs — Sea Launch and tourists trips around the moon — have resurfaced.
HOUSTON (NASA PR) — The unpiloted Russian Progress 66 launched at 12:58 a.m. Wednesday (11:58 a.m. Baikonur time) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It is now orbiting the planet on course for the International Space Station
The vehicle will deliver almost three tons of food, fuel and supplies to the Expedition 50 crew.
The spacecraft is set to dock to the Pirs docking compartment at 3:34 a.m. Friday, Feb. 24. NASA TV coverage of rendezvous and docking will begin at 2:45 a.m. Progress 66 will remain docked at the station for almost four months before departing in June for its deorbit into Earth’s atmosphere.
This was the first launch of a Progress cargo ship from Baikonur since the Progress 65 supply craft was lost Dec. 1, 2016.
Last year was not a particularly good one for the Russian space program.
The country fell behind China and the United States in launches. Its 19 attempts were the lowest in years. The Proton rocket flew only three times before being ground for more than half a year due to a launch anomaly. In December, a Soyuz malfunction sent a Progress cargo ship crashing back into Earth’s atmosphere — the latest in a long string of failures going back to 2009.
A report by Anatoly Zak of RussianSpaceWeb.com says problems that have grounded Russia’s grounded workhorse Proton and Soyuz boosters have a common origin: “egregious quality control problems” at engine manufacturer Voronezh Mechanical Plant (VMZ).
The Kommersant newspaper reported that a recent firing test had revealed technical problems with RD-0210 and RD-0212 engines, which propel the second and third stage of the Proton rocket respectively. The failure of the engine was reportedly traced to illegal replacement of precious heat-resistant alloys within the engine’s components with less expensive but failure-prone materials. The report in the Kommersant echoed the results of the investigation into the 2015 Proton failure, which found that low-quality material in the turbo-pump shaft of the engine had led to the accident.
Bloomberg Government reports that delays in fielding replacements for the retired space shuttle has forced NASA to send billions of dollars to Russia over the past six years.
NASA has spent $897 million with state-controlled Roscosmos since fiscal 2015 and $2.1 billion since the U.S. retired its space shuttle fleet in 2011, Bloomberg Government data show….
NASA must rely on Russia to transport astronauts and equipment for at least two more years. Roscosmos will receive another $950 million in 2017 and 2018 for 12 more round trips on Soyuz ISS flights, according a September report by NASA’s Office of Inspector General.
Congressional budget cuts to NASA’s Commercial Crew Program forced the agency to extend its contract with Roscosmos to keep sending American astronauts to the ISS, according to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden’s August 2015 letter to Congress.
Putin consolidated the Russian space industry into Roscosmos in 2015, placing several close advisers in senior positions, according to Senator John McCain. Among them are Chairman Dmitry Rogozin and board member Sergei Chemezov, who are listed as Specially Designated Nationals on the U.S. Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control SDN Sanctions List. Their names were added to the list following President Obama’s March 2014 emergency Executive Order 13660, issued in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Treasury denies that sanctions on Russia apply to the space industry. So while NASA isn’t in violation, it’s in an awkward position of paying billions of agency dollars directly to Russian government coffers to maintain a presence on the ISS.
The figures do not include the cost of additional Soyuz seats that NASA might end up buying for 2019 if commercial crew efforts by SpaceX and Boeing are delayed beyond 2018. NASA could purchase up to three seats through Boeing, which received them as part of a legal settlement of a lawsuit against Soyuz manufacturer RSC Energia.
After months of saying it had no plans to purchase any additional Russian Soyuz seats to take U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station, NASA is looking to do exactly that.
Only there’s a twist: NASA won’t be purchasing the seats directly from the Russians. They will be buying them from Boeing, which has obtained already purchased five seats from Soyuz manufacturer RSC Energia.