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Soyuz TMA-18M Launch to Briefly Increase ISS Crew to Nine - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 01-Sep-2015 (Updated: 02-Sep-2015 12:54 AM)

UPDATE, September 2, 2015, 12:50 am EDT:  Soyuz TMA-18M launched successfully on time at 12:37 am EDT.   Docking is scheduled for September 4 at 3:42 am EDT.

ORIGINAL STORY, September 1, 2015, 5:52 pm EDT:  Soyuz TMA-18M is scheduled to launch in a few hours from the Baikonur Cosmodrome with three new crew members for the International Space Station (ISS).  The three men -- from Russia, Denmark (under the auspices of the European Space Agency), and Kazakhstan -- will join six already aboard, increasing the crew complement to nine for about one week.  Launch is just after midnight (12:37 am) Eastern Daylight Time.

This mission is a bit of an anomaly in recent years where two of the three crew will remain on board the ISS for just one week instead of several months.   ESA's Andreas Mogensen and Kazakhstan's Aidyn Aimbetov will return to Earth on September 11 EDT (September 12 local time at the landing site) along with Russia's Gennady Padalka, who has been on ISS since March.  Padalka launched with NASA's Scott Kelly and Russia's Mikhail Kornienko on Soyuz TMA-16M.  Those two are staying aboard for a one-year mission, but the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft can only remain on orbit for six months so it and Padalka -- along with Mogensen and Aimbetov -- will come back to Earth. Russia's Sergei Volkov will command Soyuz TMA-18M and replace Padalka.


Soyuz TMA-18M crew, from left:  Aidyn Aimbetov (Kazakhstan), Sergei Volkov (Russia),
Andreas Mogensen (ESA/Denmark). Photo credit:  NASA

Mogensen and Aimbetov's time aboard ISS will be even shorter than expected because Soyuz TMA-18M will use the two-day rendezvous trajectory to get there instead of the new six-hour direct ascent route introduced for crew launches on Soyuz TMA-08M in March 2013.  The two-day trip is necessary because the ISS orbit was raised recently to avoid a piece of space junk, changing the orbital dynamics involved in getting there.  The new orbit also caused a one day slip in the launch date (from September 1). 

Soyuz TMA-18M now will arrive on September 4, giving Mogensen and Aimbetov just seven and a half days on ISS.  It may be just as well since the ISS will be a bit crowded with nine people -- the first time since November 2013 that so many have been there at one time.  On the other hand, ESA said that it means significant replanning of Mogensen's research activities and some experiments will have to be left for other astronauts to complete in the future.

Aimbetov was a last minute addition to the crew after singer Sarah Brightman withdrew from the mission.  A military pilot, he was selected as a Kazakh cosmonaut in 2002 and trained at Star City.  He became a Russian citizen along the way, but is flying as a Kazakh, not Russian, crew member.  He was assigned to the flight in June and Kazakh officials say they are paying $20 million, so he apparently is filling Brightman's "space tourist" slot, although he has been through the full training regimen.  He will be the third Kazakh cosmonaut (after Toktar Aubakirov and Talgat Musabayev), not counting Soviet cosmonauts from Kazakhstan when it was part of the Soviet Union.

NASA TV coverage of the launch begins at 11:45 pm EDT tonight (September 1). 

Docking on September 4  is scheduled for 3:42 am EDT;  NASA TV coverage begins at 3:00 am EDT.

What's Happening in Space Policy August 31 - September 11, 2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Aug-2015 (Updated: 30-Aug-2015 03:51 PM)

Summer is coming to an end and this will be the last of our "summer vacation" multi-week lists of upcoming space policy events.  This edition covers two weeks, August 31-September 11.  The House and Senate return to work on September 8.

During the Week

This week begins with AIAA's Space 2015 conference in Pasadena, CA tomorrow (Monday) through Wednesday.   If you can't be there in person, AIAA is providing a livestream of at least some of the sessions (the event's website does not indicate which ones).  Four plenary sessions may be of particular interest and hopefully are among those that will be webcast:

  • Monday, August 31, 8:00-9:30 am PDT (11:00-12:30 EDT), Executive Vision Discussion (with Jim Albaugh, Robert Lightfoot, Maj. Gen. Robert McMurry, Wanda Sigur, and Gwynne Shotwell)
  • Tuesday, September 1, 8:00-9:30 am PDT (11:00-12:30 EDT), The Business of Space--How is the Space Business Evolving to Meet Future Needs?
  • Wednesday, September 2, 8:00-9:30 am PDT (11:00-12:30 EDT), Pioneering Space
  • Wednesday, September 2, 1:15-2:00 pm PDT (4:15-5:00 EDT), Future Explorations: Our Solar System's Origins, Water and Life

Another event of special interest is the launch of Soyuz TMA-18M very early Wednesday morning (12:37 am Eastern Daylight Time--EDT).  This mission is a bit of an anomaly in recent years where two of the three crew will remain on board the International Space Station (ISS) for just one week instead of several months.   ESA's Andreas Mogensen and Kazakhstan's Aidyn Aimbetov will return to Earth on September 11 EDT (September 12 local time at the landing site) along with Russia's Gennady Padalka, who has been on ISS since March.  Padalka launched with NASA's Scott Kelly and Russia's Mikhail Kornienko and those two are staying aboard for a one-year mission, but their Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft can only remain on orbit for six months so it and Padalka -- along with Mogensen and Aimbetov -- will come back to Earth. Russia's Sergei Volkov will command Soyuz TMA-18M and replace Padalka.

Mogensen and Aimbetov's time aboard ISS will be even shorter than expected because last week the decision was made to use the two-day rendezvous trajectory to get there instead of the new six-hour direct ascent route introduced for crew launches on Soyuz TMA-08M in March 2013.  The two-day trip is necessary because the ISS orbit was raised recently to avoid a piece of space junk, changing the orbital dynamics involved in getting there.  The new orbit also caused a one day slip in the launch date (from September 1).  The Soyuz TMA-18M crew now will arrive on September 4, giving Mogensen and Aimbetov just seven and a half days on ISS.  It may be just as well since the ISS will be a bit crowded -- for the first time since November 2013, there will be nine people aboard.  On the other hand, ESA said that it means significant replanning of Mogensen's research activities and some experiments will have to be left for other astronauts to complete in the future.

Aimbetov, by the way, was a last minute addition to the crew after singer Sarah Brightman withdrew from the mission.  A military pilot, he was selected as a Kazakh cosmonaut in 2002 and trained at Star City.  He became a Russian citizen along the way, but is flying as a Kazakh, not Russian, crew member.  He was assigned to the flight in June and Kazakh officials say they are paying $20 million, so he apparently is filling Brightman's "space tourist" slot, although he has been through the full training regimen.  He will be the third Kazakh cosmonaut (after Toktar Aubakirov and Talgat Musabayev), not counting Soviet cosmonauts from Kazakhstan when it was part of the Soviet Union.

Those events and others that we know about as of today (August 30) for the next two weeks are listed below.

Monday-Wednesday, August 31-September 2

  • AIAA Space 2015, Pasadena Convention Center, Pasadena, CA (some events will be livestreamed; note that times listed on the conference's agenda are in local time)

Tuesday, September 1

Wednesday, September 2

Wednesday-Friday, September 2-4

Friday, September 4

Tuesday, September 8

  • Congress returns: House meets at 2:00 pm EDT for legislative business; Senate meets at 2:00 pm EDT

Tuesday-Thursday, September 8-10

Wednesday, September 9

Thursday, September 10

Friday, September 11

Russia's Proton Returns to Flight on Friday - UPDATE 2

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Aug-2015 (Updated: 28-Aug-2015 11:24 PM)

UPDATE, August 28, 2015, 11:25 pm EDT:  the upper stage firings were successful and Inmarsat-5 F3 has been successfully delivered into geostationary orbit.

UPDATE, August 28, 2015, 8:00 am EDT:   Liftoff took place as planned and the three-stage Proton-M rocket appears to have performed flawlessly. The Briz-M upper stage is now making the first of five firings to place the satellite into geostationary orbit.  It will take 15 hours and 31 minutes for the satellite to reach its destination.

ORIGINAL STORY, August 27, 2015: Russia plans to launch an Inmarsat satellite using its Proton-M rocket on Friday, August 28.  It is the first Proton-M launch since a May 2015 failure destroyed a Mexican communications satellite.  The once reliable Proton, the largest of Russia's current fleet, has suffered a number of failures in recent years, but typically returns to flight after a few months, as is true this time.

U.S.-based International Launch Services (ILS) markets the Proton globally and will broadcast Friday's launch of Inmarsat-5 F3 on its website.   The launch of the Proton-M with a Briz-M upper stage is scheduled for 14:44 Moscow Time, which is 12:44 British Summer Time (in London where Inmarsat is headquartered), which is 11:44 GMT, which is 7:44 am EDT.  (Note that ILS incorrectly tweeted today, Thursday, that the launch is at 12:44 GMT. As Inmarsat's website attests, it is at 12:44 BST, or 11:44 GMT).

The May 16, 2015 Proton failure 497 seconds after launch was attributed to an old design flaw that affects the turbopump for the rocket's third stage steering engine.  In investigating this accident, Russia engineers determined that the same flaw caused a failure almost three decades ago, in 1988, that previously was thought to have been caused by a manufacturing defect. This year's failure doomed Mexico's MexSat-1 (Centenario) communications satellite, the second of three in that series.  The third is scheduled for launch on a Lockheed Martin Atlas V rocket in October 2015.

At the time of the MexSat-1 failure, the President of Inmarsat, Rupert Pearce, issued a statement sounding highly displeased since it was the third time the company's Global Xpress system was encountering delays because of Proton failures.  Ironically, Pearce expressed relief that the company had another satellite under construction and a "potential" SpaceX launch in the second half of 2016 in case Proton was delayed for a long time or this return-to-flight failed.   A month later, SpaceX suffered its own launch failure and has not announced when it will resume launches.

Russia is developing a new series of rockets, Angara, to replace Proton and other Soviet-era launch vehicles, several of which have failed in recent years.  The May 16 Proton failure came on the heels of a Soyuz failure that placed the Progress M-27M spacecraft in the wrong orbit from which it quickly reentered.  SpacePolicyOnline.com's fact sheet on Russian launch failures since December 2010 lists them.

Assuming all goes well, the Inmarsat-5 F3 satellite will reach geostationary orbit 15 hours and 31 minutes after liftoff, Inmarsat explains.  Once operational, it will join two previously launched satellites in providing Ka-band global high speed broadband network connectivity -- the Global Xpress service.  This satellite will cover the Pacific Ocean region.  Inmarsat-5 F1 covers the Indian Ocean region, while Inmarsat-5 F2 covers the Americas and Atlantic Ocean region.  Both were launched by Proton rockets, in December 2013 and February 2015 respectively.

What's Happening in Space Policy August 24-September 4, 2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 23-Aug-2015 (Updated: 23-Aug-2015 03:33 PM)

Summer will be over before we know it, but for now, our list of upcoming space policy events still spans the next couple of weeks while "business" is slow.   Congress returns on September 8, the day after Labor Day.

During the Week

This week starts off with the docking of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA's) HTV5 (Kounotori5) cargo spacecraft with the International Space Station (ISS).   The spacecraft was successfully launched on Wednesday and has been catching up with ISS ever since.   JAXA astronaut Kimiya Yui is aboard ISS and will be at the controls of Canada's robotic Canadarn2 tomorrow morning (Monday) to capture it.   That event is expected about 6:55 am Eastern Daylight Time (EDT).  NASA TV coverage begins at 5:15 am EDT.  JAXA's coverage begins at 6:05 am EDT.  Installation of HTV5 onto the Harmony node will follow at about 9:45 am EDT.  The crew surely will be happy to get those 9,500 pounds of supplies, equipment and science experiments following the three cargo mission failures (one U.S. Orbital Sciences Antares/Cygnus, one Russian Soyuz/Progress, and one U.S. SpaceX Falcon/Dragon) since last October.   It should be noted, of course, that there also have been five successful cargo missions (three Russian Progresses and two U.S. SpaceX Dragons) during that time, which, if anything, demonstrates just how much resupply from Earth is needed to sustain the crew and their work.

Tomorrow also is the first day of the three-day Outer Planets Assessment Group (OPAG) meeting at the Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, MD.  These "AGs" -- assessment groups or analysis groups but NOT "advisory" groups -- apparently no longer are officially part of NASA's advisory process, but are still an opportunity for members of the relevant science community to get together and interact with each other and NASA officials.   The meeting is available virtually via WebEx and telecon.  Among the many interesting sessions, Bob Pappalardo will talk about plans for the Europa mission on Monday at 3:15 pm ET and Alan Stern is scheduled to talk about the New Horizons Pluto mission on Tuesday at 1:30 pm ET.

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) is scheduled to speak at a Maryland Space Business Roundtable (MSBR) luncheon on Tuesday.  (The event is listed on MSBR's website, but the link to the flyer is inactive.  We assume that's a glitch and the event is going on as planned, but you might want to check with MSBR to be sure).  Edwards is the top Democrat ("ranking member") on the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee and a strong NASA supporter, especially of projects at Goddard Space Flight Center near her district.  Her interest in space goes much further, though.  Never mind just trying to convince her colleagues to fund NASA's "Journey to Mars," she has said publicly that she wants to go there herself.   Right now, though, she is focused on her current job representing Maryland's 4th congressional district and running for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Barbara Mikulski.

On Friday, the Earth Science subcommittee of the NASA Advisory Council will meet telephonically.  An agenda is not yet posted on the subcommittee's website, but the Federal Register notice says it is an annual performance review of the Earth Science program as required under the Government Performance and Results Modernization Act.  The public is welcome to listen in.

Those events and others coming up the first week of September that we know about as of today, August 23, are listed below.

Monday, August 24

  • HTV5 arrival at ISS, grapple 6:55 am ET, installation 9:45 am ET (times are approximate)   Watch on NASA TV (5:15 am ET) and JAXA's YouTube site (6:05 am ET)

Monday-Wednesday, August 24-26

  • OPAG, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, Laurel, MD (available via WebEx and telecon)

Tuesday, August 25

Friday, August 28

Monday-Wednesday, August 31-September 2

Tuesday, September 1

Wednesday, September 2

Wednesday-Friday, September 2-4

 

JAXA Successfuly Launches HTV5 Cargo Ship to ISS

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Aug-2015 (Updated: 19-Aug-2015 09:20 AM)

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency(JAXA) successfully launched its fifth cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) today.   The HTV5 or Kounotori5 mission is due to arrive at the ISS on Monday.

This fifth H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV5) is taking about 9,500 pounds of supplies, equipment and scientific experiments to the ISS crew.  Of that, approximately 8,000 pounds is pressurized cargo including 3,000 pounds of food, water, clothing and perishable goods; 1,900 pounds of vehicle hardware including two new science racks; 2,700 pounds of science equipment; and 170 pounds of equipment for spacewalks.  The remainder is unpressurized cargo, including JAXA's CALorimetric Electron Telescope (CALET) that will search for signatures of dark matter.  CALET's principal investigator is Shorji Torii of Waseda University in Tokyo.

The HTV5 capsule is designated Kounotori (White Stork) so the mission is referred to by JAXA as HTV5 or Kounotori5 (NASA adds hyphens so calls it HTV-5 or Kounotori-5).


JAXA's H-IIB rocket minutes before liftoff from Tanegashima, Japan carrying HTV5.  August 19, 2015.  Photo credit:  NASA TV

In one sense this is a routine cargo launch, one of many needed each year to keep the ISS and its crew functioning.  Cargo launches to the ISS have been anything but routine over the past year, however, with three failures of U.S. and Russian systems:  U.S. Orbital Sciences Corporation's Antares failure on October  28, 2014 (Orb-3); Russia's Soyuz 2.1a failure on April 28, 2015 (Progress M-27M); and U.S. SpaceX's Falcon 9 failure on June 28, 2015 (SpaceX-7).

Russia's Progress since has returned to flight, with the successful Progress M-28M now docked to the ISS.  Orbital Sciences Corporation merged with ATK earlier this year and Orbital ATK's Cygnus spacecraft is expected to return to service on December 3, but aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket rather than Antares.  Orbital ATK is refitting Antares with a different rocket engine (Russia's RD-181) and the first launch of this new version of Antares is expected in the first quarter of 2016.   SpaceX has not announced when the Falcon 9 will resume launches or what the first one will carry.

HTV5 is now on its way to ISS, however, with a smooth launch at 8:50:49 pm Japan Standard Time (7:50:49 am Eastern Daylight Time) today.   It is on a 5-day rendezvous trajectory, with arrival at the ISS scheduled for Monday, August 24.  The ISS crew will use the robotic Canadarm2 to grapple HTV5 at approximately 6:55 am EDT and it will be berthed to the ISS Harmony module about three hours later.

JAXA's Kimiya Yui is aboard ISS along with five other ISS crew members:  two from NASA (Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren) and three from Roscosmos (Mikhail Kornienko, Gennady Padalka, and Oleg Kononenko).  Yui will operate Canadarm2 on Monday to capture HTV5.  Lindgren will assist as necessary.

What's Happening in Space Policy August 17-September 4, 2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Aug-2015 (Updated: 16-Aug-2015 06:38 PM)

Here is our list of upcoming space policy related events.  This edition covers the next three weeks, through Labor Day Weekend when "summer" unofficially ends for those of us in the United States.  Labor Day is the first Monday in September. This year it is September 7.  Congress and the regular routine of business return on September 8.

During the Week

This coming week leaves lots of time for summer fun, with just one event on our calendar at the moment -- the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA's) launch of the HTV5 cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS).  The launch has been delayed twice already because of weather and JAXA cautions that more weather delays are possible. For now the launch is scheduled for Wednesday, August 19, at 7:50 am Eastern Daylight Time (EDT).  NASA TV will provide coverage beginning at 7:00 am EDT.  The cargo capsule is named Kounotori (white stork) so this is sometimes referred to as Kounotori-5.

This is the fifth Japanese cargo mission to ISS and a Japanese astronaut is aboard ISS to welcome it.  Kimiya Yui arrived on July 22 with his Soyuz TMA-17M crew mates Kjell Lindgren (NASA) and Oleg Kononenko (Roscosmos). The other three ISS crew members are Gennady Padalka (Roscosmos), Mikhail Kornienko (Roscosmos), and Scott Kelly (NASA).  Kelly and Kornienko are not quite mid-way through their "year in space."  Yesterday was day 141 according to Kelly, who regularly tweets (@StationCDRKelly) about his experiences.  Whenever it launches, HTV5 should arrive at the ISS five days later.

That and other events we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.

Wednesday, August 19

  • JAXA launch of HTV5, Tanegashima, Japan, 7:50 am EDT (NASA TV coverage begins at 7:00 am EDT)

Monday-Wednesday, August 24-26

Tuesday, August 25

Friday, August 28

Monday-Wednesday, August 31-September 2

Tuesday, September 1

Wednesday-Friday, September 2-4

Will Tianjin Explosion Impact China's Space Program?

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Aug-2015 (Updated: 15-Aug-2015 11:29 PM)

Veteran space journalist Leonard David reports today that the chemical explosions in Tianjin, China could have an impact on China's space program.

In a post on his website, David cites Chinese state-run news outlets as saying that the explosions broke windows and caused ceilings to collapse at the National Supercomputing Center in Tianjin that "some reports say is tied to China's space program."  He adds that the installation, Tianhe-1, was shut down because of the damage.

China's new Long March 5 and Long March 7 rockets are manufactured and tested in Tianjin.  A December 25, 2014 China Daily article quotes Tao Gang, general manager of the Tianjin Long March Launch Vehicle Manufacturing Co. Ltd., as saying they were close to completing development of the Long March 7.  That vehicle and the Long March 5 are expected to replace current versions of the Long March rocket.  Both will be launched from China's new Wenchang Space Launch Center on Hainan Island. 

The first Long March 5 is expected to launch no later than 2016 according to the U.S. Department of Defense's 2015 annual China military power report.  Similar in capability to the U.S. Delta IV Heavy, the 25-ton to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) vehicle will be used for a wide range of human and robotic earth-orbit and deep-space missions, including construction of a 60-ton LEO space station.  The smaller Long March 7 will be used for cargo missions to the space station according to the China Daily report.

Tianjin Long March Launch Vehicle Manufacturing Co. Ltd. is a subsidiary of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology.  Chinese television CCTV broadcast a short segment in March showing the Long March 5 at the Tianjin facility.

Writing in Aerospace America in September 2013, Jim Oberg described the Tianjin facility based on information published by China's Xinhua news agency.  It covers 313.33 hectares with a 220,000 cubic meter assembly building for "launch vehicles, space stations, and 'special equipment' (presumably other large satellites)."  Phase One of construction was completed in February 2012, according to Oberg.

Chinese authorities are still investigating the cause of the explosions at a warehouse in Tianjin, a port city about 70 miles (110 kilometers) from Beijing, that killed more than 100 people and injured hundreds others.  Where the Long March production and test facilities are located relative to the site of the explosions is not clear. 

Orbital Buys Second Atlas V for Cargo Launch, Antares Progressing to Return to Flight

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Aug-2015 (Updated: 12-Aug-2015 10:05 AM)

Orbital ATK revealed today that it has purchased a second Atlas V rocket to launch a Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS).  The company already planned to use Atlas V for a December launch and now will use a second in 2016 along with two or three launches of its revamped Antares rocket.  An October 2014  Antares failure was the first of three failed cargo launches to ISS in less than a year that disrupted cargo deliveries, although NASA insists that U.S. ISS operations are unaffected. 

The company plans to use an Atlas V to launch Cygnus in December 2015, the first Cygnus launch under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA since the October 2014 failure.   Today's press release said only "early December," but NASA officials have publicly stated that the launch is scheduled for December 3. Orbital ATK refers to it as the "OA-4" mission.  Two successful Antares/Cygnus CRS cargo missions were flown by Orbital Sciences Corporation (Orb-1 and Orb-2) before its merger with ATK earlier this year.  The third in the series, Orb-3, was the failure.

In 2016, Orbital ATK will carry out "at least three more CRS missions: two (or possibly three) will be launched by Antares rockets ... and one more will be launched aboard Atlas V," according to Orbital ATK Space Systems President Frank Culbertson. 

The Antares return-to-flight mission is expected in the first quarter of 2016 from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility at Wallops Island, VA.  Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe said last week that repairs to the MARS facility, which is owned by the Commonwealth of Virginia and operated by the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, are almost complete.  Virginia Space, Orbital ATK and NASA are equally sharing the $15 million cost of the repairs.  McAuliffe said that a new arrangement has been negotiated with Orbital ATK regarding repair costs and insurance coverage for future missions.

The October 2014  Antares failure was caused by one of the Russian NK33 rocket engines (refurbished by Aerojet Rocketdyne and redesignated AJ26) and Orbital ATK is replacing them with a different Russian engine, RD-181.  Two engines are needed for each Antares rocket and Orbital ATK President and CEO David Thompson said during an investor teleconference last week that the engines were delivered in June and are being integrated into the Antares airframe now.  The retrofitted Antares will roll out to the pad in January for a "hot fire" engine test, Thompson added, although today's announcement said it could take place late this year or in January.  No announcement was made about exactly when the launch is planned, but March has been mentioned elsewhere.

Under the original CRS contract, Orbital ATK and its competitor, SpaceX, are each required to deliver 20 tons of cargo to the ISS by the end of 2016.   NASA awarded extensions to both companies' contracts to cover launches in 2017.  Thompson said last week that Orbital ATK was awarded two of them.  Orbital ATK has upgraded the Cygnus capsule so it can carry more mass so it anticipates that it can meet its contractual requirements using fewer launches than previously planned.

NASA and its ISS partners are recovering from a spate of cargo launch failures:  the October 28, 2014 Antares failure, a Russian Progress M-27M failure on April 28, 2015, and a SpaceX CRS-7 failure on June 28, 2015.   The Russians have since successfully launched another Progress.  A date for SpaceX Falcon 9 launches to resume has not been announced.

The next cargo mission to the ISS will be Japan's HTV5, which is scheduled for August 16, 2015.  Europe no longer launches its ATV cargo vehicle, so Japan's HTV, Russia's Progress, and the two U.S. capsules -- Orbital ATK's Cygnus and SpaceX's Dragon -- are the four vehicles used to deliver cargo at the present time.

What's Happening in Space Policy August 9-31, 2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Aug-2015 (Updated: 09-Aug-2015 01:10 PM)

With the relatively lazy days of summer upon us, the August weekly editions of "What's Happening" will cover multiple weeks.  The Senate has joined the House in recessing through Labor Day.  They return September 8.

During the Month

Some notable events have come to our attention since last week's edition.  John Sloan from the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) is the featured guest at the ISU-DC Space Cafe this Tuesday, August 11.  His topic is AST's international outreach, interesting in and of itself, but questions about AST's progress in responding to the NTSB's report on the SpaceShipTwo accident may also come up (though the answer may simply be that we all have to wait for the official response, which is due 90 days from when the report was received).

Another event that may be especially interesting is Thursday night's debate between Bas Lansdorp, President of Mars One, and two MIT graduate students (Sydney Do and Andrew Owens) who did a technical feasibility analysis of the plan that concluded it would have a "bleak outcome" as we wrote last fall.   The debate is part of the Mars Society's annual convention, which will be held at Catholic University in Washington, DC from August 13-16.  The Lansdorp/MIT debate is August 13 from 8:00-9:30 pm ET and is open to the public.

Coming up a week from Sunday is Japan's launch of HTV5, the next cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS).  We don't list routine cargo missions to ISS unless there is something non-routine going on and considering the recent failures of ISS cargo missions, HTV5 definitely qualifies.  NASA officials told the NASA Advisory Council at the end of July that some ISS supplies will be down to a 45-day margin by the time HTV5 launches on August 16.  NASA likes to maintain a 6-month margin.  The situation will be much improved once HTV5 arrives.  Launch is at 9:01 am Eastern Daylight Time (10:01 pm local time at the launch site in Tanegashima, Japan).

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning, August 9, are listed below.

Saturday - Thursday, August 8-13

Monday, August 10

Tuesday, August 11

Thursday-Sunday, August 13-16

Sunday, August 16

Monday-Wednesday, August 24-26

Tuesday, August 25

Friday, August 28

Monday-Wednesday, August 31-September 2

  • Space 2015 (AIAA), Pasadena Convention Center, Pasadena, CA

NASA Extends Contract for Russian Transport to ISS; Shireman is New ISS Program Manager

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 05-Aug-2015 (Updated: 05-Aug-2015 11:56 PM)

NASA notified Congress by letter today that it has signed a contract with Russia for additional seats on Soyuz spacecraft to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS).   The letter blamed congressional underfunding of the commercial crew program for the necessity to continue reliance on Russia.  The agency also announced a new ISS program manager, Kirk Shireman, who will succeed Mike Suffredini.

Saying that the new contract with Russia costs $490 million, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden stressed, as he has in many other forums, that U.S. crew transportation systems could have been in place this year if Congress had provided the requested funding and urged full funding this year. In the letter, he writes:  "I am asking that we put past disagreements behind us and focus our collective efforts on support for American industry -- Boeing and SpaceX -- to complete construction and certification of their crew vehicles" so launches can begin in 2017.

NASA is requesting $1.244 billion for commercial crew in FY2016.  The House approved $1.000 billion in its version of the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill that passed in June.  The Senate Appropriations Committee recommended $900 million in its version of the bill, which has not been debated by the full Senate yet.  (See our fact sheet on NASA's FY2016 budget request for more information.)

President Obama announced the commercial crew program as part of the FY2011 budget request in February 2010.  Each year, Congress has approved less than the request because of competing budget priorities, skepticism that the commercial crew program will succeed technically and/or financially, and disagreement over how many companies NASA needed to support during the various phases of development. The request versus congressional funding so far are:

  • FY2011: requested $500 million, appropriated $321 million
  • FY2012: requested $850 million, appropriated $406 million
  • FY2013: requested $830 million. appropriated $525 million
  • FY2014: requested $821 million, appropriated $696 million
  • FY2015: requested $848 million, appropriated $805 million
  • FY2016: requested $1.244 billion, appropriated TBD ($1.0 billion passed by House; $900 million recommended by Senate Appropriations Committee).

NASA pays Russia for "seats" on Soyuz spacecraft, a term that encompasses other services such as training, and includes launch, landing, and emergency escape ("lifeboat") capabilities while in orbit.  This contract is for 6 more seats on flights in 2018.  That yields a price per seat of about $81 million, up from $76 million for 2017.  One of Bolden's complaints is that the money should be going to American companies, not Russian.  NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaier said in congressional testimony in February that the average price per seat for U.S. commercial crew systems will be $56 million.

Boeing and SpaceX were selected for the final phase of NASA's commercial crew program last year.  The Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts cover completion of development and initial flights of Boeing's CST-100 capsule aboard Atlas V rockets and SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule aboard Falcon 9 rockets.  The impact of the June 28 Falcon 9 failure while launching a robotic cargo version of Dragon to ISS is not yet known.  SpaceX has not announced when the next Falcon 9 launch will take place or what it will carry.  Falcon 9 is used today not only for cargo missions to the ISS for NASA, but launches of commercial satellites for a number of customers.

Meanwhile, Mike Suffredini, who has managed the ISS program for the past 10 years, is retiring from NASA to take a position in the private sector.  NASA announced today that he will be succeeded by Kirk Shireman, who is currently Deputy Director of Johnson Space Center.  Suffredini has been ISS program manager since 2005 and saw the ISS through recovery from the 2003 Columbia space shuttle tragedy, completion of construction in 2011 (the same year the space shuttle program ended), and the first years of full operational capability.  Shireman was Suffredini's deputy for eight of those years (2006-2013).