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Russia Launches Fresh Crew To ISS On Fast-track Journey

Two cosmonauts and a NASA astronaut blasted off on a high-speed journey to the International Space Station Wednesday, in the first such launch aboard a Russian capsule since SpaceX’s game-changing debut manned flight from US soil.

Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov of Roscosmos and NASA’s Kathleen Rubins launched from the Russian-operated Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 0545 GMT on Wednesday.

A NASA TV commentator said everything was normal, citing communications between Russian mission control and the crew, while Roscosmos said the capsule had successfully gone into orbit.

The three-member crew launched from the Russian-operated Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan The three-member crew launched from the Russian-operated Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Photo: Russian Space Agency Roscosmos / Handout

Their journey will be the first manned flight to the ISS to last just over three hours before docking — a new fast-track profile that takes half the time of standard trips to the orbital lab.

Only an unmanned Progress cargo space ship has previously used this profile, which requires just two orbits before docking.

The launch is sandwiched between two SpaceX launches — the first manned spaceflights to the ISS under NASA’s aegis since 2011.

The International Space Station crew of NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov The International Space Station crew of NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov Photo: Russian Space Agency Roscosmos / Handout

Before May 30, when US astronauts Robert Behnken and Doug Hurley arrived at the ISS, Russia and Baikonur had enjoyed a lucrative monopoly on manned missions to the ISS.

The NASA duo returned safely on August 2 and a fresh SpaceX launch, this time anticipating a full-length half-year mission at the space station, is expected next month.

The emergence of private players SpaceX and Boeing — part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program — has fuelled talk of a new “space race” between a number of countries.

But the men and women that fly to the space station have played down talk of competition and focused instead on space travel’s ability to bring rival nations together for a common cause.

Speaking at a pre-launch press conference on Tuesday, Rubins did not directly reference the SpaceX flight when asked how she felt to be on board during a new era in spaceflight.

“We don’t get to choose our launch date or what occurs on station but certainly I feel incredibly lucky to be on station when…these events are happening,” said the American astronaut, who was celebrating her 42nd birthday on Wednesday.

The ISS, which has been permanently occupied since 2000 has been a rare example of cooperation between Moscow and Washington, but the project may be entering its final decade.

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Russia skeptical about participating in lunar Gateway

WASHINGTON — The head of Russia’s space agency said that the lunar Gateway, part of NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration program, is too “U.S.-centric” for it to participate in, even though the Gateway leverages the existing International Space Station partnership.

During a panel featuring the heads of seven space agencies at the International Astronautical Congress Oct. 12, Dmitry Rogozin, director general of Roscosmos, said it was unlikely that his agency would play a major role in the Gateway despite the planned participation of other ISS partners, including Canada, Europe and Japan.

“In our view, the lunar Gateway in its current form is too U.S.-centric, so to speak,” Rogozin said through an interpreter. “Russia is likely to refrain from participating in it on a large scale.”

During a later press conference, Rogozin elaborated on his issues with the Gateway. “The most important thing here would be to base this program on the principles of international cooperation which were used in order to fly the ISS program,” he said, such as collective decision-making among the station’s partners.

“If we could get back to considering making these principles as the foundation of the program, then Roscosmos could also consider its participation,” he said of the Gateway.

Rogozin’s comments about seeking to use the ISS as a model for the lunar Gateway are surprising since that is already NASA’s approach for developing it. NASA previously announced it would extend the existing intergovernmental agreement, or IGA, for the space station for the Gateway, even as it seeks a new set of agreements, called the Artemis Accords, for the broader Artemis program.

“The Gateway uses the intergovernmental agreement established for the International Space Station,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in an interview after the conference session. “All of the protocols that exist on the International Space Station would also exist for the Gateway, so I don’t think that that’s a challenge.”

NASA has been working with each ISS partner on memorandums of understanding (MOU) that would extend that ISS agreement for use on the Gateway. Bridenstine said that, in February, NASA asked Roscosmos for comments on how a potential MOU between the two agencies would work. “We’re still waiting to hear back from them,” he said.

Rogozin said that even if Russia does not decide to participate in the Gateway, he wanted to ensure that it used standard docking interfaces so that Russian spacecraft could dock with it. “We need to have at least two space transportation systems,” he said, referring to Russian plans for a next-generation crewed spacecraft called Orel. Standards for docking would enable Orel to dock with the Gateway “even if we pursue two standalone programs.”

NASA is already pursuing such standards, Bridenstine said. “We are in broad agreement with Roscosmos that we need international standards for interoperability,” he said, including not just docking but other areas, from communications to life support systems. Interoperability, he noted, is one of the principles of the Artemis Accords.

He also supported development of a Russian transportation system