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Launch of Expedition 64 Aboard Soyuz MS-17 Rocket

Expedition 64 NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and backup crew member NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei take a selfie inside the bus carrying her and fellow crewmates Russian cosmonauts Sergey Kud-Sverchkov and Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos to the launch pad, on October 14, 2020, at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The trio launched at 1:45 a.m. EDT to begin a six-month mission aboard the International Space Station. Photo by Andrey Shelepin/GCTC/NASA/UPI

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Soyuz rocket departs for the international space station in historic final U.S.-Russian flight

BAIKONUR COSMODROME, Kazakhstan — Since the launch of Sputnik and Yury Gagarin from the desert steppe of Kazakhstan over 60 years ago, the history of spaceflight has been measured in milestones.

The first satellite, the first human in space, the first to the Moon. But the launch of Soyuz MS-17 on Wednesday was a different kind of milestone: the end of an era.

At 8.45 a.m. local time, a Soyuz rocket blasted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Russia’s sprawling and remote space launch facility in Kazakhstan, to the International Space Station.

It was the last time NASA paid for an American astronaut to fly with the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, on such a flight. Next year, for the first time since the start of the ISS program 20 years ago, Russia will fly all-Russian crews on Soyuz.

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov board the Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft Wednesday.Andrey Shelepin / AFP – Getty Images

Wednesday’s launch will carry cosmonauts Sergei Ryzhikov and Sergei Kud-Sverchkov, along with NASA astronaut Kathleen Rubins, the 250 miles to the station in just three hours and seven minutes.

But in just a few weeks’ time, NASA will begin flying its astronauts to ISS aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. The agency hopes to eventually allow Russian cosmonauts aboard the Dragon, but it is unclear when that will happen.

A Roscosmos spokesperson told NBC News there were no definite plans for any Russian to join the U.S. venture, adding that this question was inexorably linked to future U.S. rides on Soyuz.

Stephen Koerner, NASA’s director of flight operations at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, said it will be at least a year before any kind of seat swaps are made.

“It really will depend on having the U.S. crew vehicles launching at some cadance,” he said.

The cooperation between NASA and Roscosmos aboard the International Space Station has been a success. Both sides regularly praise each other and speak highly of their relationship, but this partnership was the product of a different era in U.S.-Russia relations.

“The cooperation between the United States and [Russia] occurred because changes in that part of the world made it possible,” said Susan Eisenhower, author of Partners in Space: US-Russian Cooperation after the Cold War.

“However, the ensuing partnership in space occurred because it served the interest of both countries.

After years of preparation and construction, ISS was ready for service as a far-flung embodiment of post-Cold War reconciliation and cooperation between old rivals.

When NASA retired the U.S. space shuttle program in 2011, it was left entirely dependent on purchasing rides from Russia – a transaction that has subsidized Russia’s launch efforts for a decade. This dependence became a hot-button political issue for NASA domestically after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

There were efforts made by government officials on both sides at this time to politicize the relationship and use it to somehow punish the other. On the Russian side, the

Soyuz rocket departs for space station in historic final U.S.-Russian flight

BAIKONUR COSMODROME, Kazakhstan — Since the launch of Sputnik and Yury Gagarin from the desert steppe of Kazakhstan over 60 years ago, the history of spaceflight has been measured in milestones.

The first satellite, the first human in space, the first to the Moon. But the launch of Soyuz MS-17 on Wednesday was a different kind of milestone: the end of an era.

At 8.45 a.m. local time, a Soyuz rocket blasted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Russia’s sprawling and remote space launch facility in Kazakhstan, to the International Space Station.

It was the last time NASA paid for an American astronaut to fly with the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, on such a flight. Next year, for the first time since the start of the ISS program 20 years ago, Russia will fly all-Russian crews on Soyuz.

Image: NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, members of the International Space Station (ISS) expedition 64, wave as they board the Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft prior to the launch from the Russian-leased Ba (Andrey Shelepin / AFP - Getty Images)
Image: NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, members of the International Space Station (ISS) expedition 64, wave as they board the Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft prior to the launch from the Russian-leased Ba (Andrey Shelepin / AFP – Getty Images)

Wednesday’s launch will carry cosmonauts Sergei Ryzhikov and Sergei Kud-Sverchkov, along with NASA astronaut Kathleen Rubins, the 250 miles to the station in just three hours and seven minutes.

But in just a few weeks’ time, NASA will begin flying its astronauts to ISS aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. The agency hopes to eventually allow Russian cosmonauts aboard the Dragon, but it is unclear when that will happen.

A Roscosmos spokesperson told NBC News there were no definite plans for any Russian to join the U.S. venture, adding that this question was inexorably linked to future U.S. rides on Soyuz.

Stephen Koerner, NASA’s director of flight operations at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, said it will be at least a year before any kind of seat swaps are made.

“It really will depend on having the U.S. crew vehicles launching at some cadance,” he said.

The cooperation between NASA and Roscosmos aboard the International Space Station has been a success. Both sides regularly praise each other and speak highly of their relationship, but this partnership was the product of a different era in U.S.-Russia relations.

“The cooperation between the United States and [Russia] occurred because changes in that part of the world made it possible,” said Susan Eisenhower, author of Partners in Space: US-Russian Cooperation after the Cold War.

“However, the ensuing partnership in space occurred because it served the interest of both countries.

After years of preparation and construction, ISS was ready for service as a far-flung embodiment of post-Cold War reconciliation and cooperation between old rivals.

When NASA retired the U.S. space shuttle program in 2011, it was left entirely dependent on purchasing rides from Russia – a transaction that has subsidized Russia’s launch efforts for a decade. This dependence became a hot-button political issue for NASA domestically after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

There were efforts made by government officials on

Blue Origin’s New Shepard Rocket Launches a New Line of Business

West Texas is not quite like the moon. But it can serve as a handy stand-in.

On Tuesday, Blue Origin, the rocket company started by Jeffrey P. Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon, launched — and landed — its small New Shepard rocket and capsule for the 13th time as part of tests to verify safety before any passengers climb aboard.

One day, this will be New Shepard’s main business: flying well-to-do people above the 62-mile altitude generally considered the beginning of outer space where they will experience a few minutes of weightlessness as the capsule arcs.

Blue Origin is not a new company — Mr. Bezos founded it in 2000 — but for most of its existence, it operated in secret without generating much revenue. Three years ago, Mr. Bezos said he was selling a billion dollars a year in Amazon stock to finance Blue Origin’s research and development. And he has declared broad ambitions for its business, such as competing with Elon Musk’s SpaceX and others in the orbital launch business, building a moon lander for NASA astronauts and eventually making it possible for millions of people to live and work in space.

But the cargo of Tuesday’s launch from a test site near Van Horn, Texas, shows that the company is finding a more modest business in the short term: turning the reusable New Shepard rocket and capsule into an effective, and profitable, platform for testing new technologies and performing scientific experiments.

“It was fantastic,” said Erika Wagner, Blue Origin’s payload sales director, who was in West Texas. “We were watching across the valley and watching the rocket climb up.”

Tucked under the collar at the top of the booster on Tuesday’s launch were prototypes of sensors that could help NASA astronauts safely reach the lunar surface in a few years. It is part of NASA’s Tipping Point program, which seeks to push innovative technologies.

“Although not identical to a lunar lander, it is representative in that full-flight profile of approaching at a high rate of speed, and then throttling up an engine and doing a propulsive landing,” said Stefan Bieniawski, who leads the Blue Origin side of the partnership with NASA. “In fact, I think we’re actually at slightly higher speeds than you would be approaching the moon. So it gives a little bit of a stress test for some of these sensors.”

Unlike NASA’s Apollo missions from 1969 to 1972, which visited different parts of the moon, the space agency’s current Artemis program aims to make repeated visits near the lunar South Pole, where eternally shadowed craters contain large amounts of water ice. That will require the ability to land close to the same spot again and again.

To that end, NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., has spent years developing a system that bounces light off the surface to measure altitude and velocity of a descending spacecraft. This technology, lidar, short for light detection and ranging, is similar to radar, but it should

NASA astronaut set to launch on Russian rocket as US transitions to private spacecraft

A new crew of three astronauts are launching to the International Space Station late tonight, blasting off on a Russian Soyuz rocket out of Kazakhstan. The trio are heading to the station about a month ahead of SpaceX’s next crewed Dragon launch, which will bring another set of four astronauts aboard the ISS in mid-November.

Heading up on this Soyuz flight are two Russian cosmonauts — Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov — and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, on her second trip to space. The trio will join three crew members who have been living on the ISS since April: Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner and NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy. However, their living arrangement won’t last long. Cassidy and his cosmonaut crew mates are slated to head back to Earth on October 21st, riding inside the Soyuz capsule that brought them to the space station.

Just a few weeks later, in early- to mid-November, Rubins and her team are set to welcome the four-member crew of SpaceX’s first operational Crew Dragon mission, called Crew-1. That flight will carry three NASA astronauts — Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker — and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi to the ISS for a six-month stay. Their arrival on SpaceX’s new passenger vehicle will bring the total population of the ISS to seven — a larger cohort than usual for the ISS, which has typically held six-person crews since the end of the Space Shuttle program.

Rubins’ flight on the Soyuz comes amid a time of transition in NASA’s human spaceflight program. Since the last flight of the Space Shuttle in 2011, the only way NASA astronauts could get to the station was on Russia’s Soyuz rocket. But through NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, two private companies — SpaceX and Boeing — have been developing their own space capsules to take NASA astronauts to and from the space station. In May, SpaceX demonstrated that its Crew Dragon spacecraft could safely ferry astronauts to and from the station when it delivered two NASA crew members to the ISS. Boeing’s first crewed test flight is currently scheduled for next year.

The Soyuz rocket rolling out to the pad.
Image: NASA

SpaceX and Boeing’s vehicles were supposed to be ready as early as 2017, but their development programs suffered from years of delays. In the meantime, NASA continued to purchase seats on Russia’s Soyuz for US astronauts — at roughly $80 million per person — though the agency tried to limit the amount, hoping that the Commercial Crew vehicles would come online soon. NASA had hoped they’d be ready last year, but when more delays seemed imminent, the space agency purchased one last Soyuz seat — the one that Rubins will ride in early tomorrow morning.

Moving forward, NASA hopes that it can work out seat trades with Roscosmos, where Russian cosmonauts will ride on SpaceX and Boeing’s vehicles in exchange for NASA astronauts flying on

Bezos’ Blue Origin conducts successful test flight for tourism rocket

Jeff Bezos, founder of Blue Origin, at New Shepard's West Texas launch facility
Jeff Bezos, founder of Blue Origin, at New Shepard’s West Texas launch facility

Blue Origin, the US space company founded by billionaire Jeff Bezos, succeeded Tuesday in its latest test flight of its rocket aimed at one day taking tourists to space, even as the date of the first crewed launch remains unclear.

The New Shepard capsule, which was propelled over the boundary of space by a small reusable launch vehicle that returned to land vertically, will one day carry up to six passengers.

It attained an altitude of 66 miles (106 kilometers) above sea level, before descending back to the surface using parachutes and landing in a cloud of dust in the desert of West Texas.

Its total flight time was 10 minutes and nine seconds.

Blue Origin previously unveiled the capsule’s interior: six seats with horizontal backrests, placed next to large portholes, in a futuristic cabin with swish lighting.

Multiple cameras help immortalize the few minutes the tourists experience weightlessness while taking in the Earth’s curvature.

This summer, competitor Virgin Galactic showed off the interior of its own vessel which is one day supposed to take private passengers to the boundaries of space for a few minutes.

But neither company has announced the start of commercial flights, which have been expected for years.


Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin rocket makes 10th flight test (Update)


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Demonstrator masters flight sequences for reusable rocket stages

Demonstrator masters flight sequences for reusable rocket stages
The demonstrator technology vehicle (DTV) is a 60 kg platform with landing legs. It has been developed by INCAS, Romania’s National Institute for Aerospace Research in Bucharest. DTV’s turbo jet 0.9 kN-class engine provides the power to carry payloads totalling 20 kg. Tests at INCAS in July 2020 lasted ten seconds to a couple of minutes to demonstrate vertical takeoff, short hovering and landing manoeuvres – the technology building blocks for the recovery of a rocket stage. This project was carried out with the support of ESA’s Future Launchers Preparatory Programme. Credit: ESA

A crucial part of rocket reusability is a smooth return and landing. ESA has helped Romania’s National Institute for Aerospace Research, INCAS, to demonstrate vertical takeoff, short hovering and landing maneuvers using a small-scale flight demonstrator.


This 60 kg platform has landing legs and is powered by a turbo jet 0.9 kN-class engine. It is capable of carrying payloads totalling 5 kg.

The demonstrator technology vehicle (DTV) was tested this summer at INCAS in Bucharest. Tethers were used as a safety measure and to protect it from damage in case of an equipment failure during flight. Maneuvers lasted ten seconds to a couple of minutes.

“The major challenges are the design and test of the guidance, navigation and control techniques. They should allow robust and autonomous control of the platform during the three flight sequences: takeoff, hovering and landing,” explained Stephane Dussy, ESA’s Demonstrator lead project engineer.

This project has been carried out within ESA’s Future Launchers Preparatory Programme (FLPP). FLPP hones technologies for future space transportation solutions with the objective to improve the mid- to long-term competitiveness of European launch services.

The DTV is a fast track and low-cost entry step into some of the important fields being investigated and is providing precious technical results. Once qualified, it will be used as a platform for in-flight demonstrations, in particular for launcher reusability and planetary space transportation.

ESA has helped Romania’s National Institute for Aerospace Research, INCAS, to perform vertical takeoff, short hovering and landing manoeuvres using a small-scale flight demonstrator. This 60 kg platform with landing legs is called the demonstrator technology vehicle (DTV). Its turbo jet 0.9 kN-class engine provides the power to carry payloads totalling 20 kg. INCAS carried out the tests in Bucharest in July 2020. Manoeuvres lasted ten seconds to a couple of minutes to prove several technology building blocks for the recovery of a rocket stage for the purpose of reusability. Credit: Romania’s National Institute for AerospaceResearch, INCAS

“These tests represent a major milestone, proving several technology building blocks for the recovery of a large scale in-flight demonstration rocket booster for the purpose of reusability,” added Mr. Dussy.

ESA gave support on the vehicle design and guidance, navigation and control (GNC) and made recommendations to ensure safe testing.

Subsequent outdoor DTV flights will achieve varying heights and duration, untethered.

A more powerful DTV weighing 130 kg with three engines is also being considered and would be capable of supporting larger payloads.

Blue Origin launches and lands a New Shepard rocket on its seventh trip to space



a group of clouds in the sky


Update October 13th, 9:53AM ET: New Shepard successfully took off at 9:36AM ET, climbing to a height of about 66 miles up. Both the rocket and crew capsule returned safely to Earth following the flight.

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Original story: This morning, Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin is set to conduct another test launch of its New Shepard rocket, a reusable vehicle designed to take paying tourists to the edge of space and back. Just like New Shepard test flights of the past, no people will be on board this trip, but the rocket will be carrying a dozen research payloads to space for NASA.

Today’s test will mark the 13th launch of the New Shepard program and the seventh overall flight for this particular rocket. But it’s been a long time since the New Shepard fleet has seen any action, with the last test flight (featuring the same rocket launching today) taking place back in December 2019. In April, at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US, the company had hoped to conduct another New Shepard test launch, despite concerns voiced by employees at the time. That launch was ultimately delayed, and Blue Origin waited until late September to try again, though it had to push the launch back until this week due to a power supply issue.

After a long downtime, New Shepard appears ready to fly again

Now, after the long downtime, New Shepard appears ready to fly again, with multiple experiments in tow to be tested out in space. Typically, these experiments ride inside the New Shepard crew capsule, perched on top of the rocket, but one NASA experiment will actually remain mounted to the outside of the rocket for the entire flight. Called “Safe and Precise Landing – Integrated Capabilities Evolution,” or SPLICE for short, this payload is equipped with sensors, instruments, and software that NASA has developed to help future crewed and robotic spacecraft land on the Moon. Throughout the New Shepard flight, NASA will determine how well the technology works as the rocket flies to space and then attempts to land gently back down on Earth.

New Shepard’s flight profile makes it a great testbed for trying out lunar landing technologies, says NASA. The rocket takes off vertically from the ground, flying up to around 62 miles high, where any passengers inside would experience microgravity. (Similarly, lunar landers also experience microgravity and the vacuum of space before touching down on the Moon.) After reaching space, the crew capsule detaches from the rest of the rocket, and both vehicles fall back down to Earth. A series of parachutes deploy to land the crew capsule safely on the ground while the rocket reignites its engine to land upright. Lunar landers also employ similar landing techniques on the Moon, using onboard engines to slow down and touch down gently on the lunar surface. During that descent and landing, NASA’s SPLICE experiment will be collecting a whole lot of data.



the inside of a building: The New Shepard rocket with NASA’s SPLICE experiment mounted on the outside. Two white sensor packages are attached to the bottom of the ring fin.


© Image: Blue Origin
The

Blue Origin plans third try to launch New Shepard rocket mission

Blue Origin plans a launch Tuesday morning in West Texas for its New Shepard rocket, like this one that was launched Jan. 23, 2019. Photo courtesy of Blue Origin

Blue Origin plans a launch Tuesday morning in West Texas for its New Shepard rocket, like this one that was launched Jan. 23, 2019. Photo courtesy of Blue Origin

Oct. 13 (UPI) — Blue Origin plans to try again Tuesday morning to launch a NASA moon landing experiment aboard the company’s reusable New Shepard rocket from Texas.

Liftoff is scheduled for 9:35 a.m. EDT at the company’s launch facilities about 150 miles east of El Paso. The company postponed the launch twice before — once due to cloudy weather and again the next day due to a power supply problem on board the rocket.

The NASA experiment is part of the agency’s Tipping Point program, which seeks to demonstrate technology that can be adopted by private industry. The project includes a collection of sensors designed to help locate a safe site on the moon for upcoming landings, according to NASA and Blue Origin’s mission description.

“A NASA-developed sensor suite could allow robotic and crewed missions to land precisely on the lunar surface within half the distance of a football field,” NASA said of the project. “The rocket’s flight path is relevant to lunar landings, providing a unique opportunity to mature sensors and algorithms for potential use on Artemis [moon] missions.”

Those sensors require clear skies to function properly and that was the cause of the initial delay.

Lunar landings are important to Blue Origin because it leads the so-called National Team in developing a human lander for future moon missions. The team includes Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper.

The sensors are the first payload to fly mounted on the exterior of a New Shepard booster rather than inside its capsule, which the company said could open up opportunities for other exterior technology, including “a wide range of future high-altitude sensing, sampling and exposure payloads.”

The launch would be the 13th New Shepard mission and the seventh consecutive flight for the rocket, which is 60 feet high and emits 110,000 pounds of thrust.

The company, owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, one day wants to fly space tourists in a capsule designed for six people as it also develops its larger New Glenn rocket.

At least two plant experiments are in the rocket’s capsule for the so-called NS-13 mission, one of which was designed by researchers at the University of Florida’s Ferl/Paul Space Plants Lab.

Other payloads on board the so-called NS-13 mission include experiments from Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland, NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California and Colorado-based Space Lab Technologies.

Sorry, SpaceX. Watch This Week As NASA Pays $90 Million To Launch U.S. Astronaut On A Russian Rocket

U.S. astronauts now fly to the International Space Station (ISS) from American soil, right?

So why is a NASA astronaut about to blast-off to the ISS from Russia at a cost of over $90 million?

Despite the success of “Launch America” back on May 30, 2020 when NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley journeyed to and from the ISS in SpaceX hardware during the historic SpaceX Crew Demo-2 mission, NASA astronaut Kate Rubin will this week leave Earth from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

As I reported back in June, it’s the final part of an existing contract between NASA and the Russian space agency to send a US astronaut to the ISS aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

When is the next rocket launch to the ISS?

Rubin is due to lift-off on Wednesday, October 14, at 1:45 a.m. EDT (10:45 a.m. Kazakhstan time) together with cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov of Roscosmos. Their two-orbit, three-hour journey will begin their six-month mission on the ISS.

Where to watch the rocket launch to the ISS

You can tune-in to the launch online by visiting NASA TV on the space agency’s website or NASA TV on YouTube:

Why is NASA paying Russia $90 million to launch an astronaut when it now has SpaceX?

NASA has been signing contracts with Russia to buy seats on Soyuz spacecraft since 2011 when the Shuttle was grounded. This is its last currently contracted seat, NASA confirmed to me last week. In fact, a contract modification in May 2020 procured one seat at a cost of $90,252,905.69. The cost covers training and preparation for launch, flight operations, landing and crew rescue services.

So does this mean NASA had a Plan B while SpaceX was testing its Crew Dragon spacecraft last summer? “NASA continues to have high confidence in our U.S. commercial crew partners for regular crew rotation,” said NASA in an emailed statement to me.

However, there’s a refreshing lack of nationalism in what is, after all, an entirely global endeavor. “As the U.S. commercial crew capability becomes operational, astronauts and cosmonauts should resume flying together on our respective spacecraft, consistent with past practice,” reads the statement from NASA.

Will Russian cosmonauts fly on NASA SpaceX missions?

Almost certainly—because it’s safer. “A problem with a spacecraft in orbit may require the full crew of that spacecraft to return to Earth,” reads the NASA statement. “Flying mixed crews is mutually beneficial as it would increase the probability that both astronauts and cosmonauts will be on the space station to perform critical operations.”

NASA and Roscosmos are now discussing plans to ensure at least one U.S. and Russian crew member are aboard the ISS at any one time.

So while the days of paying $90 million-per-seat are over for NASA, we can expect to see Russian cosmonauts on SpaceX missions