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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

SpaceX rocket issue delays astronaut launch

Astronauts make round trip to space station from U.S. soil

NASA astronaut Douglas Hurley (C) waves to onlookers as he boards a plane at Naval Air Station Pensacola to return him and NASA astronaut Robert Behnken home to Houston a few hours after the duo landed in their SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft off the coast of Pensacola, Fla,, on August 2, 2020. Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA | License Photo

NASA, SpaceX Delay Crew-1 Mission Due To ‘Off-Nominal Behavior’ From Falcon 9

KEY POINTS

  • NASA and SpaceX’s crewed mission has been delayed to November
  • The agency cited “off-nominal behavior” from the Falcon 9’s engine
  • The delay can provide more time to ensure the mission’s safety

NASA and SpaceX’s Crew-1 has been delayed due to “off-nominal” behavior from the Falcon 9.

It was in May when NASA and SpaceX successfully launched astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station (ISS), marking the first time that American astronauts launched from American soil in nearly a decade. But that successful mission was just a demonstration and the first actual crewed operational flight of a Crew Dragon spacecraft, the Crew-1 mission, was set for a late October launch following several delays.

But on Oct. 1, NASA released a statement on the Crew-1 mission, noting a new target of “no sooner than early-to-mid November.” The agency cited “off-nominal behavior” from the Falcon 9’s first stage engine gas generators during a recent non-NASA mission.

Although the agency did not specify which mission this was, it was just last Oct. 2 when the Falcon 9 launch set to carry a GPS 3 satellite was scrubbed just two seconds before liftoff. An earlier Falcon 9 Starlink launch was also scrubbed with just seconds before liftoff although it was later successfully launched on Oct. 6, SpaceNews reports.

“NASA and SpaceX will use the data from the company’s hardware testing and reviews to ensure these critical missions are carried out with the highest level of safety,” the agency said in the statement.

Meanwhile, another launch set to use the Falcon 9, the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich, is still scheduled for Nov. 10.

No matter when the launch will take place, NASA and SpaceX’s Crew-1 mission remains the same, with the plans to send NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, as well as the Japan Aerosoace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) Soichi Noguchi to the ISS aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft aptly dubbed Resilience.

“The Crew-1 mission is a major step for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program,” NASA said in the statement. “Operational, long duration commercial crew rotation missions will enable NASA to continue the important research and technology investigations taking place onboard the station.”

Meanwhile, the other mission under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, Boeing’s Crew Flight Test, is set for a 2021 launch. When it launches, it will have an all-NASA crew after astronaut Chris Ferguson stepped down from the mission just last week on Oct. 7.

The Crew Dragon capsule is seen atop a Falcon 9 rocket on May 24, 2020 The Crew Dragon capsule is seen atop a Falcon 9 rocket on May 24, 2020 Photo: SPACEX / –

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Rocket problem prompts NASA and SpaceX to delay next launch of astronauts

“We have a strong working relationship with our SpaceX partner,” Kathy Lueders, associate administrator of NASA’s human exploration and operations mission directorate, said in the post. “With the high cadence of missions SpaceX performs, it really gives us incredible insight into this commercial system and helps us make informed decisions about the status of our missions. The teams are actively working this finding on the engines, and we should be a lot smarter within the coming week.”

SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment.

The mission, which had previously been scheduled for Oct. 31, would launch NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Shannon Walker, Victor Glover as well as Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi to the space station for a stay of about six months.

It would be SpaceX’s first operational mission of flying full crews for extended stays after it successfully completed a shorter test mission with two astronauts in August to verify the performance of the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft.

NASA and SpaceX said that test mission, from launch, to docking to splashdown, went flawlessly. But since then SpaceX said that it had redesigned a portion of the capsule’s heat shield after noticing what Hans Koeigsmann, SpaceX’s vice president of build and reliability, said was “a little more erosion than we wanted to see.” The erosion was in a few small areas where the crew capsule joins the spacecraft’s trunk, an unpressurized cargo hold that is discarded before the spacecraft slams into the atmosphere.

The friction between the thickening air and the speeding spacecraft generates temperatures as high as 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit and engulf the capsule in a fireball. The heat shield covers the bottom of the spacecraft and keeps the crew safe.

Speaking to reporters recently, Koenigsmann stressed that there “was nothing to be concerned with at all times. The astronauts were safe, and the vehicle was working perfectly.”

Earlier this month, SpaceX scrubbed a pair of launches late in the countdown, prompting Musk’s plans for “a broad review of launch site, propulsion, structures, avionics & regulatory constraints this weekend.” He added that he would make a trip to Cape Canaveral “to review hardware in person.”

A launch on Oct. 2 of a GPS satellite for the U.S. Space Force was scrubbed two seconds before liftoff after what Musk described as an “unexpected pressure rise in the turbomachinery gas generator,” which helps power the rocket’s Merlin engines.

A day earlier, SpaceX scrubbed a launch of its Starlink satellites with 18 seconds to go in the count because of a problem with a ground sensor. After scrubbing the Starlink mission, SpaceX bounced back and launched the batch of 60 satellites on Tuesday. Still, SpaceX’s goal is to launch much more frequently, and Musk said on Twitter recently that: “We will need to make a lot of improvements to have a chance of completing 48 launches next year!”

The GPS launch has not yet been rescheduled.

The company’s Falcon 9 rocket has flown more than 90 times, the

San Antonio company working with military, SpaceX to move cargo anywhere in world in an hour or less

A San Antonio company is partnering with the military and SpaceX to move cargo anywhere in the world in an hour using commercial spacecraft — including vertical-landing rockets built in Texas.

U.S. Transportation Command, which is responsible for moving military personnel and equipment around the world, said it’s working with Exploration Architecture, or XArc, and Elon Musk’s SpaceX to develop “rapid transportation through space” capabilities.

XArc, with six employees, is responsible for determining what’s needed on the ground to launch and land commercial spacecraft around the world.

The collaboration is the latest development in Texas’ still-expanding role in space travel and could help the U.S. military more quickly respond to threats and humanitarian crises around the world.

The aim is to use commercial space vehicles, including SpaceX’s Starship, to deliver payloads anywhere in the world. Starship can carry loads of 220,000 pounds.

“Our role is to understand the ground support infrastructure required to make it happen,” XArc CEO Sam Ximenes said. “What are the ground facilities and cargo standardizations so that it is seamlessly integrated into the (military’s) current logistics system.”

Sam Ximenes is chief executive of XArc. His company is teaming with Houston engineering firm KBR to evaluate three types of rockets.

His company is teaming with Houston engineering firm KBR to evaluate three types of rocket landing areas: rugged sites with no infrastructure, remote sites with limited support and mature sites that have established capabilities.

Related: NASA contractors stake out San Antonio’s place in space

The nine-person team is considering the logistics, including fuel and cargo requirements, needed to support spacecraft around the world, Ximenes said.

“Think about moving the equivalent of a C-17 payload (170,900 pounds) anywhere on the globe in less than an hour,” Army Gen. Stephen R. Lyons, head of U.S. Transportation Command, said in a statement. “Think about that speed associated with the movement of transportation of cargo and people.”

The companies could begin testing ground-support concepts as early as 2021.

In addition to SpaceX’s Starship, XArc’s study is looking at commercial space vehicles under development, including Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Horizon and Virgin Galactic’s Stratolaunch.

Founded in 2007, XArc specializes in space architecture and engineering, and it consults on designs for “spaceports, space stations, planetary surface systems and terrestrial space-related facilities,” the company website states.

On ExpressNews.com: A Grunt Style Reckoning: A look inside San Antonio apparel maker’s rowdy past, near-death experience and current leadership battle

“For the past 75 years or so, we have been constrained to around 40,000 feet altitude and 600 miles per hour in our very fastest method of logistics delivery — airlift,” said Navy Vice Adm. Dee Mewbourne, deputy commander of U.S. Transportation Command.

A screenshot from the LabPadre YouTube channel shows the SpaceX Starship prototype as it raises itself 150 meters into the air before lowering back to the ground.

Rockets traveling through space could speed cargo delivery by 10 times.

“It’s time to learn how our current strategies to project and sustain forces can evolve with a new mode of transportation,” he said.

In addition to speed, commercial space lift “eliminates en-route stops or air refueling,” officials said in a statement. “This capability has the potential to be one of the greatest revolutions in transportation since the airplane.”

The no-cost agreement allows

Exolaunch signs pact with SpaceX and scouts U.S. location

SAN FRANCISCOExolaunch signed an agreement to secure rides for dozens of small satellites on SpaceX rideshare missions scheduled to launch later this year and in 2021.

Under the agreement announced Oct. 8, Germany’s Exolaunch plans to integrate 30 U.S. and European cubesats and microsatellites on Falcon 9 rideshare flights to sun-synchronous orbit scheduled to launch in December. Exolaunch plans to integrate roughly the same number of satellites on a SpaceX rideshare flight in mid-2021.

In response to growing demand for launch services, Exolaunch plans to open an office in the United States. The company has not yet selected a location.

“As we continue to sign on more U.S.-based customers, it makes sense strategically for Exolaunch to establish an additional office in the U.S,” Connor Jonas, Exolaunch program manager, said in a statement.

Exolaunch is continuing to sign up customers for the second and third Falcon 9 rideshare missions slated for 2021.

“SpaceX program is a game-changer for the rideshare launch industry giving new impetus for numerous constellations of small satellites,” said Jeanne Medvedeva, Exolaunch vice president of launch services. “Teaming up with SpaceX, we are able to offer our customers seamless, reliable and cost-effective launch solutions and expand access to space.”

Customers signed up for launches through Exolaunch include Loft Orbital, Swarm Technologies, NanoAvionics, the German Aerospace Center DLR and German universities.

On the Falcon 9 flights, Exolaunch will integrate satellites with its EXOport adapter and send satellites into orbit with its CarboNIX separation system.

Prior to the latest announcement, Exolaunch secured Falcon 9 rideshare flights in 2020 and 2021 for cubesats built by NanoAvionics of Lithuania.

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Elon Musk’s Tesla, Starman fly past Mars 2 years after SpaceX launch

  • In February 2018, SpaceX launched a Tesla Roadster owned by the company’s founder, Elon Musk, into deep space.
  • The electric vehicle, which has a spacesuit-clad “Starman” dummy in the driver’s seat, just made its first flyby of Mars.
  • To Starman, Mars would have appeared to be about one-tenth the size of the moon as seen from Earth, the astronomer Jonathan McDowell said.
  • The vehicle and its unlikely passenger, launched on the upper stage of a Falcon Heavy rocket, may travel for millions of years before crashing, most likely back into Earth.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

An electric car that Elon Musk rocketed into space more than two years ago just flew past Mars for the first time.

SpaceX, the rocket company Musk founded, launched his old Tesla Roadster aboard a Falcon Heavy rocket in February 2018 with a spacesuit-wearing dummy named “Starman” at the wheel.

The car also carried a Hot Wheels model of itself with a miniature Starman inside. In storage, it holds a copy of the sci-fi novels “Foundation” by Isaac Asimov and “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams, along with a towel and a sign that says “Don’t Panic.” The car’s speakers even blasted the song “Space Oddity” by David Bowie after launch.

Since then, the rocket’s second stage has glided through space with no fuel to propel it, with Musk’s old red car perched on top of it.

“It’s a rocket stage with a hood ornament,” Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who independently calculated the Tesla’s close Mars pass, told Business Insider.

spacex falcon heavy launch

An illustration of Musk’s Tesla atop the upper stage of a Falcon Heavy rocket.


SpaceX/YouTube



The Tesla was supposed to slip into a circular orbit between Mars and the sun. But the mission overshot and ended up on an elliptical path that takes it far past Martian orbit, toward the asteroid belt; it completes an orbit about every 557 days. The car’s trajectory had taken it past Mars orbit before, but at that time the planet was nowhere near the point where Starman intersected its path.

The car made its first close approach to Mars at about 2:25 p.m. ET on Wednesday, passing about 7.4 million kilometers (4.6 million miles) from the red planet, according to McDowell’s calculations. (SpaceX on Wednesday tweeted a similar estimate of “under 5 million miles” for the flyby distance.)

Neither the Tesla nor the Falcon Heavy stage attached to it is sending signals back to Earth, so McDowell calculated its path from the last data available as it left Earth. He used the same gravitational data that NASA uses to steer its space probes.

spacex falcon heavy launch

An illustration of “Starman” and Musk’s Tesla flying past Mars.


SpaceX/YouTube



“It’s a pretty confident extrapolation, because we understand gravity pretty well,” McDowell said. “The only thing that could throw you off is what we call outgassing: If there was leftover fuel, or if the paint job on the Tesla carriage came off,

SpaceX Starman dummy finally makes it to Mars in Elon Musk’s red Tesla

screen-shot-2018-02-08-at-12-07-40-pm-1

Starman abides.


SpaceX

Starman has finally made it to the red planet — sort of. 

It’s been over two and a half years since SpaceX successfully demonstrated its Falcon Heavy launch system. Rather than using a hunk of concrete or some other sort of ballast for a test payload, Elon Musk offered up his cherry red Tesla piloted by a dummy in a spacesuit named Starman.

Starman was set on a trajectory toward Mars, the planet Musk hopes to help transform into a new destination for humans in the coming decades. 

Just over 32 months later, the Tesla finally made its first close pass by Mars on Wednesday, according to a tweet from SpaceX.

Early calculations of the Tesla’s path through the cosmos show it has assumed an orbit around the sun that has it meandering back and forth between the orbits of Earth and Mars, roughly. 

This is Starman’s first close pass by Mars, but it’s not particularly close at just under 5 million miles (8 million kilometers). According to Ben Pearson, who developed the unofficial Where Is Roadster online tracker, the Tesla will be making a significantly closer pass of the red planet on April 22, 2035 at 1.4 million miles (2.3 million kilometers).

We’ll have to wait a lot longer for Starman to make a swing by Earth. His next close pass won’t be until 2047, when the warranty on his Tesla will be long expired. 

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SpaceX may have Dragon spaceships in orbit without a break for a year

SpaceX is preparing to launch four NASA astronauts on its Crew Dragon spaceship this Halloween — the first of six crewed missions the space agency has contracted from the rocket company founded by Elon Musk. (The one that concluded in August was considered a demonstration.)

That’s on top of the cargo resupply missions that SpaceX will regularly launch to the International Space Station for NASA. The company has been sending a spaceship designed to carry supplies, called Cargo Dragon, to the orbiting laboratory since 2012. That vehicle has made over 20 trips to the station and back.

Combined, the two types of Dragon spacecraft are scheduled to launch into space seven times over the next 14 months.

Spacex crew dragon launch

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship launches from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center with a “Starman” dummy aboard on March 2, 2019.

NASA TV


“Every time there’s a Dragon launch, there’ll be two Dragons in space,” Benji Reed, director of crew mission management at SpaceX, said at a press conference earlier this month. 

That’s because each of the crewed SpaceX missions should overlap for a few days. The company’s next astronaut mission, called Crew 1, launches at the end of the month, then the next one, Crew-2, is scheduled to launch in late March 2021. But the Crew-1 astronauts don’t plan to leave the space station until April. The same thing should happen with the following mission, Crew-3: It’s expected to launch in September 2021, so should tag up with Crew-2 in orbit.

The Crew-1 crew includes NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Mike Hopkins, and Victor Glover, as well as Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi. Hopkins is to be the mission commander, Glover the pilot, and Walker and Noguchi mission specialists.

soichi noguchi victor glover shannon walker nasa jaxa astronauts spacex spacesuits portrait crew 1 dragon spaceship mission KSC 20200924 PH SPX01_0009_orig

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 astronauts participate in equipment testing in Hawthorne, California, on September 24, 2020.


SpaceX



NASA’s ‘next era in human spaceflight’

Before SpaceX launched NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the space station in May on its Crew Dragon, NASA hadn’t been able to fly its own astronauts to space since 2011, when it ended its space-shuttle program.

The partnership with SpaceX was the product of the space agency’s Commercial Crew Program, which put private firms in competition for billions of dollars’ worth of government contracts. SpaceX and Boeing came out on top. Once the program is complete, NASA will have doled out more than $8 billion in awards and contracts over about a decade.

Boeing is expected to launch its first crewed CST-100 Starliner spaceship in December 2021. The Starliner-1 crew consists of commander Sunita Williams, mission specialist Jeanette Epps, and pilot Josh A. Cassada – all NASA astronauts. The fourth member has not yet been announced. 

But before Boeing launches humans into space, it has to retry an uncrewed demonstration mission on Starliner, because the attempt in December failed: Starliner entered orbit successfully, but failed to rendezvous with the space station due to potentially “catastrophic” software errors that NASA then investigated. The vehicle also saw problems on its way