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Japanese billionaire, Russian actress to fly to ISS

May 13th 2021 at 18:11
Maezawa

WASHINGTON — A Japanese billionaire best known for buying a SpaceX Starship flight around the moon will go to space first on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station, two months after a Russian actress and director visit the station.

Space tourism company Space Adventures and the Russian space agency Roscosmos announced May 13 that Yusaku Maezawa will fly to the ISS on the Soyuz MS-20 mission launching Dec. 8 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. He will be accompanied by a production assistant, Yozo Hirano, on the 12-day flight, commanded by Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin.

“We are excited for Maezawa-san, and we are honored to have enabled this opportunity for him to fly to space,” Eric Anderson, chairman and chief executive of Space Adventures, said in the statement.

The mission will be the first brokered by Space Adventures, which arranged all previous space tourists to visit the ISS, since Guy Laliberté, the Canadian founder of Cirque du Soleil, flew to the station in 2009. British singer Sarah Brightman was to fly to the station in 2015 through a deal arranged by Space Adventures, but she backed out several months in advance, citing personal issues.

Space Adventures had been working on this mission, the first dedicated commercial Soyuz flight to the station, for some time, but the selection of Maezawa and Hirano was a surprise. Earlier reports suggested that Austrian pilot Johanna Maislinger and Japanese entertainer Yumi Matsutoya would fly on Soyuz MS-20.

Maezawa, an entrepreneur who made billions with the Japanese online apparel retailer Zozo, is best known in the space industry for his 2018 decision to buy a SpaceX Starship circumlunar flight. He said he planned to fly on that mission along with eight artists.

In March, Maezawa announced a contest to choose the people who will accompany him on that “dearMoon” mission, scheduled for 2023. That process is scheduled to conclude with the selection of the crew by the end of June, but the project has not provided any public updates since late March, and few details in general about the process it will use to determine who will accompany Maezawa.

“I’m so curious, ‘what’s life like in space’? So, I am planning to find out on my own and share with the world on my YouTube channel,” Maezawa said in the Space Adventures statement, which added that Hirano “will be responsible for documenting Mr. Maezawa’s mission.”

Maezawa said he was still planning to fly on Starship around the moon. “Going to the ISS before the Moon,” he tweeted.

The announcement of the Space Adventures flight came the same day that Roscosmos announced actress Yulia Peresild will accompany director Klim Shipenko and Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov on the Soyuz MS-19 mission to the ISS, launching Oct. 5.

Peresild and Shipenko will spend 12 days on the station, shooting scenes for a Russian movie called “Vyzov” (“The Challenge”) that Roscosmos is producing with a Russian network, First Channel. The two will return on the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft currently at the station with Oleg Novitsky.

Novitsky launched on Soyuz MS-18 April 9 with Russian cosmonaut Pyotr Dubrov and American astronaut Mark Vande Hei. Dubrov and Vande Hei will have to remain on the station for an extended mission because their seats will be occupied by Peresild and Shipenko.

Vande Hei, formally added to Soyuz MS-18 just a month before launch after NASA and Roscosmos worked out a deal for a seat that involved a third party, Axiom Space, said before launch that he was aware he could stay longer than the typical six-month increment on the station. “Honestly, for me it’s just an opportunity for a new life experience. I’ve never been in space longer than six months,” he said. “I’m really enthusiastic about it.”

Peresild, an actress who has appeared extensively in Russian television and film, was one of four finalists for the mission. Another actress, Alena Mordovina, will train as the backup for the mission. A third finalist, Galina Kairova, a pilot and amateur actress, was invited by Roscosmos to train to become a professional cosmonaut.

SpaceNews

Russian actress, Japanese entrepreneur cleared for space station visits

May 13th 2021 at 15:58

STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS & USED WITH PERMISSION

Russian actress Yulia Peresild participates in a press conference Thursday in Moscow. Credit: Roscosmos

Russian actress Yulia Peresild and filmmaker Klim Shipenko will join cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov for a Soyuz flight to the International Space Station on Oct. 5 to shoot scenes for an upcoming movie, the Russian space agency announced Thursday.

“At the end of 2020, an open competition was announced for the lead role in the first feature film to be filmed in space,” Roscosmos said on its website. Peresild, 36, and Shipenko, 37, were selected “based on the results of medical and creative selection.” Training will begin in June.

“They will have to go through, among other things, tests on a centrifuge, a vibration stand, to make introductory and training flights on an airplane in zero gravity, to undergo parachute training,” Roscosmos said. The training and the flight will be covered by Russia’s Channel One television network.

In a related development, Roscosmos and Space Adventures, a company that brokers commercial flights to the space station, announced that Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and an assistant, Yozo Hirano, will launch aboard another Soyuz Dec. 8.

Maezawa, founder of ZoZotown, one of Japan’s largest retail websites, also has chartered an eventual flight around the moon aboard a SpaceX Starship rocket.

The two 12-day Soyuz flights were expected, but Thursday’s announcement makes it official, meaning NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, launched to the station last month with two Russian cosmonauts, will remain in orbit for nearly a full year before another seat is available to bring him back to Earth.

He knew when he launched April 9 that his planned six-month mission could be extended if Roscosmos approved the launch of an actress and director in September. But he said he was prepared for a longer stay.

“We try to make sure we’re ready for anything,” he told CBS News before takeoff. “I certainly feel emotionally prepared. … I’m going to try to really be meditative about the time, try to focus on positive things. I think you could end up in a tough spot if you don’t recognize that it’s a challenging environment.”

Former astronaut Scott Kelly holds the record for the longest U.S. spaceflight, logging 340 days aboard the space station in 2015-16. If Vande Hei returns next March 28 aboard the next available Soyuz as expected, he will set a new NASA record, spending 353 days in orbit.

Vande Hei is not the only station crew member getting a mission extension. Cosmonaut Pyotr Dubrov, who launched with Vande Hei and Oleg Novitskiy, will remain aboard the outpost when Novitskiy departs Oct. 17 with Peresild and Shipenko. Dubrov also will log 353 days in space before returning to Earth with Vande Hei and Shkaplerov next March.

The upcoming Soyuz launches, along with two SpaceX Crew Dragon flights carrying all-civilian crews, are the latest milestones in a new era of commercial human spaceflight. If the current launch schedule holds up, 12 non-government “astronauts” will reach orbit over the next seven months, the same number of professional government astronauts from NASA, the European Space Agency, Roscosmos, and China.

SpaceX plans to launch four civilians to low-Earth orbit aboard a Crew Dragon spacecraft in September in a mission, dubbed Inspiration4, to benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

That flight, chartered by billionaire Jared Isaacman, will not visit the space station. But in January, Houston-based Axiom Space plans to launch four private citizens to the lab complex aboard another Crew Dragon, the first commercial flight to the outpost by an all-civilian crew.

Japanese fashion entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa will launch aboard another Soyuz on Dec. 8, joining cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin and Yozo Hirano, Maezawa’s production assistant, for a 12-day flight to the space station. Credit: Roscosmos/Space Adventures

In addition, Blue Origin, owned by Amazon-founder Jeff Bezos, plans to launch a non-government crew on a sub-orbital space flight July 20, the company’s first piloted launch of its New Shepard rocket and spacecraft. Additional up-and-down flights to space are planned before the end of the year.

Virgin Galactic, owned by Richard Branson, also is gearing up to begin piloted sub-orbital spaceflights. Both companies plan to launch “space tourists” as well as government-sponsored crew members and microgravity payloads.

“This truly is a renaissance in U.S. human spaceflight,” Phil McAlister, NASA’s director of commercial spaceflight development, said earlier this week during a briefing about the Axiom mission. “I think that’s the perfect word for what we’re experiencing.

“This is a real inflection point, I think, with human spaceflight. I’m very bullish on the tourism market and the tourism activity, I think more people are going to fly, they’re going to want to do more things in space. The more things they want to do, that will attract more people. … It’s just what we envisioned for the Commercial Crew Program when we embarked on that about 10 years ago.”

Arianespace launched 36 OneWebs on Soyuz

April 26th 2021 at 02:00
Arianespace launched 36 OneWebs on Soyuz

Luxembourg, 26 April 2021. – Arianespace launched 36 OneWeb satellites on a Soyuz rocket, bringing the entire OneWeb constellation to 182 satellites, Arianespace said. Flight ST31 was the 56th Soyuz mission carried out by Arianespace and its Starsem affiliate; it was the 326thmission in the Arianespace family of launchers, bringing the total number of satellites launched by Arianespace to 868.

Read more »

OneWeb adds 36 more satellites to internet network

April 26th 2021 at 00:21

A Soyuz rocket lifted off Sunday from Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East with 36 internet satellites built on Florida’s Space Coast for OneWeb, bringing the company’s fleet to 182 spacecraft, more than a quarter of the way to building out a constellation of nearly 650 orbiting relay nodes.

The 151-foot-tall (46-meter) Soyuz rocket climbed off its launch pad at Vostochny, Russia’s newest spaceport, with nearly million pounds of thrust. Arcing toward the north, the Soyuz-2.1b rocket dropped its four first stage boosters about two minutes after liftoff.

Live views from rocket-mounted cameras showed the boosters peeling away from the Soyuz core stage, followed moments later by separation of the payload shroud that protected the 36 OneWeb satellites during the initial ascent through the atmosphere.

Nearly five minutes into the mission, the Soyuz core stage shut down and jettisoned as the rocket’s third stage engine ignited. A Fregat upper stage separated and ignited about 10 minutes after liftoff to place the 36 OneWeb satellites into a preliminary transfer orbit. A second Fregat main engine burn an hour later injected the satellites into a targeted 279-mile-high (450-kilometer) orbit.

The satellites deployed from a dispenser four at a time, with the Fregat’s control thrusters firing between each separation to ensure proper spacing between the spacecraft. The Fregat upper stage released the final satellite quartet nearly four hours after launch.

Arianespace, which provides launch services for OneWeb, confirmed the successful separation of all 36 satellites from the Fregat stage.

“Congratulations to all the teams who made this latest mission from the Vostochny Cosmodrome a success,” said Stéphane Israël, CEO of Arianespace. “This launch again confirms Arianespace’s ability to deploy the OneWeb constellation through the use of three different Soyuz launch sites — in French Guiana, Kazakhstan and Russia.”

A Soyuz-2.1b rocket lifts off with 36 OneWeb satellites. Credit: Roscosmos

In a post-launch statement, OneWeb said its ground team acquired signals from all the satellites, confirming the spacecraft were alive and functioning after deployment in orbit.

Each spacecraft will deploy power-generating solar panels and switch on xenon-fueled plasma thrusters to reach an operational altitude of 745 miles (1,200 kilometers) in the coming months. The 36 satellites — each about the size of a mini-fridge — were built in Florida near NASA’s Kennedy Space Center by a joint venture between OneWeb and Airbus.

With Sunday’s launch, OneWeb’s fleet has 182 spacecraft of a planned constellation of 648 satellites relaying broadband internet signals around the world.

London-based OneWeb said the launch Sunday is the third of a set of five Soyuz missions that will enable the network to provide initial connectivity to users north of 50 degrees latitude. The five launches began in December — after OneWeb emerged from bankruptcy proceedings last year — followed by another Soyuz flight March 25. The next two OneWeb launches after Sunday are tentatively scheduled for May 27 and July 1 from Vostochny, according to Russian media reports.

“OneWeb’s ‘Five to 50’ programme aims to connect broadband data users in the northern hemisphere, with services covering the United Kingdom, Alaska, Northern Europe, Greenland, Iceland, the Arctic Seas and Canada,” OneWeb said in a statement. “Service will be ready to start by the end of year, with global service available in 2022.”

Four Soyuz launches for OneWeb are scheduled from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan later this year, each carrying more than 30 satellites.

The rapid-fire launch schedule follows the first three Soyuz/OneWeb launches in February 2019, February 2020, and March 2020. The launch Sunday was sixth of 19 dedicated Soyuz missions to build out OneWeb’s fleet.

“I want to sincerely thank OneWeb for its trust,” Israël said. “I am delighted that our company has contributed — for the sixth time — to this client’s ultimate ambition of providing Internet access to everyone, anywhere, at any time.”

Artist’s concept of a OneWeb satellite. Credit: OneWeb

OneWeb filed for bankruptcy last year after running into fundraising trouble. The UK government and the Indian mobile telecom operator Bharti Global purchased OneWeb, which is headquartered in London and has satellite operations centers in Britain and Virginia.

OneWeb bought the Soyuz launches from Arianespace, which oversees Soyuz flights from the Guiana Space Center in South America. Through its subsidiary Starsem, Arianespace also manages commercial Soyuz launch services from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and from Vostochny.

The busy string of launches planned by OneWeb is outpaced by only SpaceX, which is deploying a network of thousands of Starlink satellites to provide global internet services. Other companies, such as Amazon and Telesat, are developing their own satellite internet constellations, but neither has started deploying operational spacecraft. So far, SpaceX is closest to entering commercial service, followed by OneWeb.

The commercial ventures are designed to beam internet signals to underserved communities, commercial and military ships and aircraft, and other remote customers.

SpaceX’s early focus has been on the consumer broadband market, but the U.S. military has tested out Starlink services. OneWeb’s has emphasized selling services to governments and companies, and the company said it recently also demonstrated its internet connectivity to the U.S. military.

Using its own fleet of reusable Falcon 9 boosters, SpaceX has jumped far ahead of OneWeb in launching satellites. SpaceX has put up 1,445 Starlink satellites to date, including prototypes and failed spacecraft. The company says it has more than 1,300 active satellites in its constellation.

The design of SpaceX’s Starlink network, which flies closer to Earth, requires more satellites to provide global service than OneWeb’s fleet. SpaceX says placing its satellites at lower altitudes reduces the risk of the spacecraft becoming a long-term source of space junk.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

OneWeb Flight 6 launches aboard Soyuz-2.1b from Vostochny

April 25th 2021 at 14:08

Arianespace has launched its second mission of the year on Sunday 25 April at 22:14 UTC from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Russian Far East. The flight carried 36 more OneWeb satellites to Low Earth Orbit on board a Soyuz-2.1b launch vehicle, operated in partnership with Starsem and Roscosmos.

The Soyuz-2.1b rocket made its 56th flight for Arianespace and its Starsem affiliate, and its third launch from Vostochny for Starsem (the eighth Soyuz launch from Vostochny overall). This mission was the sixth flight of the OneWeb internet satellite constellation, and it launched 36 satellites into a polar orbit inclined 87.4 degrees to the equator, at an altitude of approximately 450 kilometers.

This launch brings the number of OneWeb satellites in orbit to 182, as part of its initial constellation which will consist of 650 satellites orbiting at an altitude of 1,200 km. For comparison, SpaceX’s Starlink constellation has 1,319 satellites in orbit, with a final initial shell size of 1,584 satellites at 550 km altitude and at a 53 degree inclination.

The constellation will take 20 Soyuz launches to finish, and like other competitor services such as Starlink, is designed to provide high speed, low latency broadband services to areas where such service is unavailable now. Whereas Starlink is being marketed to individuals, OneWeb’s services are designed for enterprise customers, including broadband providers. User terminals can enable 3G, LTE, 5G, and Wi-Fi service over land, sea, and air.

Later this year, initial service will be made available to areas in the Arctic, Greenland, Iceland, the United Kingdom, Alaska, Canada and Northern Europe, before the worldwide rollout in 2022. The Northern Hemisphere will be covered first, followed by the Southern Hemisphere.

OneWeb and Airbus Defence and Space have teamed up to construct a production line that can build two satellites per day, through the OneWeb Satellites venture. These satellites are manufactured in a facility in Merritt Island, Florida, adjacent to the Kennedy Space Center, and flown to their launch site for integration with a satellite dispenser built by RUAG in Sweden. The satellites for Flight 6 arrived at Vostochny on 5 April.

The satellites and dispenser are mounted atop a Fregat upper stage and encapsulated in a 4.1 meter diameter ST fairing before being mounted on the Soyuz launch vehicle. The integrated vehicle was rolled out to Site 1S and raised vertical on 22 April.

The Fregat upper stage is capable of restarting twenty times after launch and is useful for complex missions such as this. OneWeb Flight 6 takes 3 hours, 51 minutes, 40 seconds to complete, with nine separation events and 11 Fregat firings.

The payload masses 5,808 kg, and the 36 satellites are separated into different orbital planes to meet the constellation’s requirements. They will be at an initial altitude of 450 km before being maneuvered to their final orbit at 1,200 km altitude.

The OneWeb Flight 6 satellites are encapsulated in the Soyuz-2.1b payload fairing – via Roscosmos

The OneWeb satellites have been designed to deorbit within 25 years of retirement, in keeping with space debris mitigation guidelines. The issue of space debris has gained more attention in recent years due to the emergence of large satellite constellations as well as several high profile near-misses on orbit.

This issue was highlighted recently when a potential conjunction between a OneWeb and a Starlink satellite was reported by the US Space Force’s 18th Space Control Squadron. OneWeb and SpaceX contacted each other regarding the potential conjunction and no collision occurred; however OneWeb CEO Chris McLaughlin expressed concerns about the Starlink automated collision avoidance system and the number of satellites Starlink wanted to place in orbit for its constellation.

The probability of collision had briefly reached 1.3 percent, but SpaceX stated that the threshold for a maneuver being required had never been reached, and that the miss distance had become much greater even without any maneuvers. The SpaceX automatic collision avoidance system was disabled to allow the OneWeb satellite to conduct an avoidance maneuver.

OneWeb was founded in 2012 by Greg Wyler and launched its first satellites in February 2019. After failing to raise enough capital from investors, OneWeb filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in May 2020, laying off most of its employees but retaining the ability to control existing satellites in orbit. In the summer of 2020, the UK Government and Bharti Airtel won a bid to purchase the company, and in November, OneWeb emerged from bankruptcy.

The Soyuz-2.1b launch vehicle for OneWeb Flight 6 is rolled to the launch pad – via Roscosmos

The UK Government had floated the idea of using the OneWeb constellation as a replacement for the Galileo navigation constellation, which Britain can no longer use as a result of exiting the European Union. However, these satellites had not been designed for that purpose and the constellation will now be built up to accomplish its original purpose of bringing broadband to areas without service, including rural parts of Britain.

The OneWeb constellation, Starlink, Amazon’s Project Kuiper, and other low Earth orbiting constellations promise to revolutionize broadband communications and other areas including meteorology and remote sensing. However, the number of satellites in these constellations has raised concerns for collisions in orbit that could jeopardize other spacecraft, as well as concerns about the night sky and astronomical observations being affected.

As more launches like OneWeb Flight 6 lift off, more places around the world will get broadband communications capability, while the 18th Space Control Squadron and other interested parties keep a watch on the crowded skies in Earth orbit.

(Lead photo via Roscosmos)

The post OneWeb Flight 6 launches aboard Soyuz-2.1b from Vostochny appeared first on NASASpaceFlight.com.

Live coverage: Soyuz lifts off from Vostochny Cosmodrome

April 25th 2021 at 14:00

Live coverage of the countdown and launch of a Russian Soyuz rocket from the Vostochny Cosmodrome with 36 OneWeb broadband satellites. Text updates will appear automatically below. Follow us on Twitter.

SpaceX Update: Endeavour Has Docked with the ISS...

As seen from inside Crew Dragon Resilience, Crew Dragon Endeavour is about to dock with the International Space Station (ISS) on April 24, 2021.
NASA - Mike Hopkins

Earlier today, Crew Dragon Endeavour ended her almost 24-hour chase of the International Space Station (ISS) when she finally docked to the orbital outpost at 5:08 AM, Eastern Daylight Time (2:08 AM, Pacific Daylight Time). For the next four days, the ISS will be populated by 11 crew members (four astronauts from the newly-arrived Crew-2, four astronauts from Crew-1 and one astronaut, plus two cosmonauts, who launched aboard Russia's Soyuz MS-18 vehicle from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on April 9). The Crew-1 astronauts will then board their Crew Dragon Resilience vehicle on April 28 and return to Earth for a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean...off the coast of Florida later that day.

Crew-3 is set to launch to the ISS no earlier than late October—while Resilience will be refurbished and reused for the 3-day Inspiration4 mission, which will have an all-civilian crew, that's scheduled to fly in mid-September.

With the arrival of Crew-2 on April 24, the ISS will be populated by 11 astronauts until April 28...when Crew-1 returns to Earth for a splashdown off the coast of Florida.
NASA TV

Soyuz rocket set to launch more OneWeb internet satellites

April 24th 2021 at 14:11

A Soyuz rocket is standing on a launch pad at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East for liftoff Sunday with the next 36 satellites for OneWeb’s internet network, the sixth Soyuz mission dedicated to the commercial broadband constellation.

The 36 satellites, built on Florida’s Space Coast by a joint venture between between OneWeb and Airbus, are stowed inside the nose cone of a Soyuz-2.1b rocket at Vostochny, Russia’s newest spaceport in the far eastern Amur Oblast near the Chinese border.

Ground teams transferred the Soyuz rocket, its Fregat upper stage, and the OneWeb payload compartment to their launch pad Thursday. A hydraulic lift raised the Soyuz rocket vertical over the flame trench, and a mobile gantry moved into position around the launcher for workers to complete final launch preparations.

Russian managers will meet around five hours before launch to give the “go” to load kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants into the Soyuz rocket. The gantry will withdraw to a location near the launch pad, clearing the way for liftoff at 2214:08 GMT (6:14:08 p.m. EDT).

Launch is timed for 7:14:08 a.m. Monday local time at Vostochny, around two hours after sunrise.

The four-hour mission will place the 36 OneWeb satellites — each about the size of a mini-fridge — into a polar orbit about 279 miles (450 kilometers) above Earth after launching toward the north from Vostochny. Each spacecraft will deploy power-generating solar panels and switch on xenon-fueled plasma thrusters to reach an operational altitude of 745 miles (1,200 kilometers) in the coming months.

With next 36 satellites, OneWeb’s fleet will have 182 spacecraft of a planned constellsation of 648 nodes relaying broadband internet signals around the world. The fleet will surpass the one-quarter complete mark with Sunday’s launch.

OneWeb’s next 36 satellites are encapsulated inside the payload fairing of a Soyuz-2.1b launcher at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia. Credit: Roscosmos

London-based OneWeb said the launch Sunday is the third of a set of five Soyuz missions  that will enable the network to provide initial connectivity to users north of 50 degrees latitude. The five launches began in December — after OneWeb emerged from bankruptcy proceedings last year — followed by another Soyuz flight March 25. The next two OneWeb launches after Sunday are tentatively scheduled for May 27 and July 1 from Vostochny, according to Russian media reports.

“OneWeb’s ‘Five to 50’ programme aims to connect broadband data users in the northern hemisphere, with services covering the United Kingdom, Alaska, Northern Europe, Greenland, Iceland, the Arctic Seas and Canada,” OneWeb said in a statement. “Service will be ready to start by the end of year, with global service available in 2022.”

Four Soyuz launches for OneWeb are scheduled from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan later this year, each carrying more than 30 satellites.

The rapid-fire launch schedule follows the first three Soyuz/OneWeb launches in February 2019, February 2020, and March 2020.

OneWeb filed for bankruptcy last year after running into fundraising trouble. The UK government and the Indian mobile telecom operator Bharti Global purchased OneWeb, which is headquartered in London and has satellite operations centers in Britain and Virginia.

The launch Sunday will be the sixth of 19 dedicated Soyuz missions to build out OneWeb’s fleet.

A Soyuz-2.1b rocket rolls out to its launch pad at the Vostochny Cosmodrome fr liftoff Sunday. Credit: Roscosmos

OneWeb bought the Soyuz launches from Arianespace, which oversees Soyuz flights from the Guiana Space Center in South America. Through its subsidiary Starsem, Arianespace also manages commercial Soyuz launch services from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and from Vostochny.

The busy string of launches planned by OneWeb is outpaced by only SpaceX, which is deploying a network of thousands of Starlink satellites to provide global internet services. Other companies, such as Amazon and Telesat, are developing their own satellite internet constellations, but neither has started deploying operational spacecraft. So far, SpaceX is closest to entering commercial service, followed by OneWeb.

The commercial ventures are designed to beam internet signals to underserved communities, commercial and military ships and aircraft, and other remote customers.

SpaceX’s early focus has been on the consumer broadband market, but the U.S. military has tested out Starlink services. OneWeb’s has emphasized selling services to governments and companies, and the company said it recently also demonstrated its internet connectivity to the U.S. military.

Using its own fleet of reusable Falcon 9 boosters, SpaceX has jumped far ahead of OneWeb in launching satellites. SpaceX has put up 1,445 Starlink satellites to date, including prototypes and failed spacecraft. The company says it has more than 1,300 active satellites in its constellation.

The design of SpaceX’s Starlink network, which flies closer to Earth, requires more satellites to provide global service than OneWeb’s fleet. SpaceX says placing its satellites at lower altitudes reduces the risk of the spacecraft becoming a long-term source of space junk.

In this aerial view, a Soyuz-2.1b rocket arrives at its launch pad at Vostochny Cosmodrome. Credit: Roscosmos

On Sunday’s launch, the Soyuz-1.b rocket will shed its four kerosene-fueled first stage boosters about two minutes after liftoff, then the payload shroud will jettison at T+plus 3 minutes, 35 seconds, after vehicle climbs above the thick, lower layers of the atmosphere. The Soyuz core stage will fire until just shy of the five-minute mark in the mission, then separate to fall back to the ground over Russian territory.

A third stage engine will light to propel the Fregat upper stage and stack of OneWeb satellites on a ballistic, suborbital trajectory. Then the Fregat main engine will ignite at T+plus 10 minutes, 22 seconds, for a five-minute burn to place the OneWeb satellites into a preliminary elongated orbit.

After soaring north over the Arctic Ocean and back south again, a second burn by the Fregat upper stage about 64 minutes after liftoff to finish the job of placing the OneWeb payloads into the proper 279-mile-high orbit for deployment.

The Fregat upper stage will release the OneWeb satellites into orbit four at a time, with pulses by the Fregat’s smaller control thrusters between each deployment to provide spacing between the spacecraft.

The first quartet of OneWeb satellites will separate at 7:32 p.m. EST (2332 GMT), and the final four will fly free of the Fregat upper stage at about 10:05 p.m. EDT (0205 GMT), nearly four hours after liftoff.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

ISS Update: Crew Dragon Endeavour Officially Begins Her Second Trip to the Orbital Outpost...

The Falcon 9 rocket carrying Dragon Endeavour and her four Crew-2 astronauts head to the International Space Station...on April 23, 2021.
SpaceX

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 Astronauts Headed to International Space Station (Press Release)

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 astronauts are in orbit following their early morning launch bound for the International Space Station for the second commercial crew rotation mission aboard the microgravity laboratory. The international crew of astronauts lifted off at 5:49 a.m. EDT Friday from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket propelled the Crew Dragon spacecraft with NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, along with JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet, into orbit to begin a six-month science mission on the space station.

During Crew Dragon’s flight, SpaceX will command the spacecraft from its mission control center in Hawthorne, California, and NASA teams will monitor space station operations throughout the flight from Mission Control Center at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

“It has been an incredible year for NASA and our Commercial Crew Program, with three crewed launches to the space station since last May,” said NASA Acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk. “This is another important milestone for NASA, SpaceX, and our international partners at ESA and JAXA, and for the future of scientific research onboard the space station. It will be an exciting moment to see our crews greet one another on station for our first crew handover under the Commercial Crew Program.”

The Crew Dragon spacecraft, named Endeavour, will dock autonomously to the forward port of the station’s Harmony module about 5:10 a.m. Saturday, April 24. NASA Television, the NASA app, and the agency’s website are providing ongoing live coverage through docking, hatch opening, and the ceremony to welcome the crew aboard the orbital outpost.

“I’m really proud of the SpaceX team and honored to be partnered with NASA and helping JAXA and ESA as well,” said Elon Musk, Chief Engineer at SpaceX. “We’re thrilled to be a part of advancing human spaceflight and looking forward to going beyond Earth orbit to the Moon and Mars and helping make humanity a space-faring civilization and a multi-planet species one day.”

The Crew-2 mission is the second of six crewed missions NASA and SpaceX will fly as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. This mission has several firsts, including:

- First commercial crew mission to fly two international partners;
- First commercial crew handover between astronauts on the space station as Crew-1 and Crew-2 astronauts will spend about five days together on station before Crew-1 returns to Earth;
- First reuse of the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket on a crew mission – Crew Dragon Endeavour flew the historic Demo-2 mission and the Falcon 9 flew astronauts on the Crew-1 mission; and,
- First time two commercial crew spacecraft will be docked to station at the same time.

“When I see a launch I immediately think of what it took to reach this milestone and the dedication of all the people who made it happen,” said Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “There’s obviously a long way to go, but now we can celebrate the Crew-2 launch and look forward to seeing them join their other Expedition 65 colleagues as we prepare to bring Crew-1 home next week.”

Kimbrough, McArthur, Hoshide, and Pesquet will join the Expedition 65 crew of Shannon Walker, Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Mark Vande Hei of NASA, as well as Soichi Noguchi of JAXA and Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov. For a short time, the number of crew on the space station will increase to 11 people until Crew-1 astronauts Walker, Hopkins, Glover, and Noguchi return a few days later.

This the second commercial crew mission to fly a JAXA astronaut. When Hoshide joins astronaut Noguchi during the commercial crew handover period, it will mark the first time two JAXA astronauts are on station at the same time.

“I am extremely honored to witness the successful launch today. It is my utmost pleasure and also for Japan that Japanese astronauts Soichi Noguchi and Aki Hoshide boarded the operational spacecraft of Crew Dragon twice in a row,” said Hiroshi Sasaki, Vice President for Human Spaceflight and Space Exploration. “I believe this is brought by the many years of close cooperation cultivated amongst the international partners, especially between U.S. and Japan through the ISS program. I hope Aki will play an integral role as the second Japanese ISS commander along with his colleague astronauts, creating fruitful outcomes and expanding the human frontier to the Lunar Gateway, the surface of the Moon and even beyond.”

Crew-2 also is the first commercial crew mission to fly an ESA astronaut. Pesquet is the first of three ESA crew members assigned to fly to station on commercial crew spacecraft, kicking off a continuous stay of ESA astronauts on the space station for about a year and a half – in total – for the first time in more than 20 years.

"This is a thrilling time for human spaceflight and this new success of the Commercial Crew Program embodies it – congratulations once again to NASA and SpaceX,” said David Parker, director of human and robotic exploration at ESA. “Starting with astronaut Thomas Pesquet, ESA is delighted to join this new space station chapter, paving the way to the future of exploration side by side with diverse partners. Six months of excellent science and state-of-the-art technology demonstrations now await him, and we know he cannot wait to start working."

Crew-2 Astronauts

Shane Kimbrough is commander of the Crew Dragon spacecraft and the Crew-2 mission. Kimbrough is responsible for all phases of flight, from launch to re-entry. He also will serve as an Expedition 65 flight engineer aboard the station. Selected as a NASA astronaut in 2004, Kimbrough first launched aboard space shuttle Endeavour for a visit to the station on the STS-126 mission in 2008, and then aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft for his first long-duration mission for Expedition 49/50 in 2016. He has spent a total of 189 days in space and performed six spacewalks. Kimbrough also is a retired U.S. Army colonel and earned a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, and a master’s degree in operations research from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.

Megan McArthur is the pilot of the Crew Dragon spacecraft and second-in-command for the mission. McArthur is responsible for spacecraft systems and performance. She also will be a long-duration space station crew member, making her first trip to the space station. Selected as an astronaut in 2000, McArthur launched on space shuttle Atlantis as a mission specialist on STS-125, the final Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission, in 2009. McArthur operated the shuttle’s robotic arm over the course of the 12 days, 21 hours she spent in space, capturing the telescope and moving crew members during the five spacewalks needed to repair and upgrade it. She holds a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles and a doctorate in oceanography from the University of California, San Diego.

Akihiko Hoshide is a mission specialist for Crew-2. As a mission specialist, he will work closely with the commander and pilot to monitor the spacecraft during the dynamic launch and re-entry phases of flight. Once aboard the station, Hoshide will become a flight engineer for Expedition 65. Hoshide joined the National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA, currently JAXA) in 1992 and was selected as an astronaut candidate in February 1999. Hoshide is a veteran of two spaceflights. In June 2008, he flew to the International Space Station on the STS-124 mission to deliver the Japanese Experiment Module Kibo to the station. From July to November 2012, he stayed on the space station for 124 days as a flight engineer for the Expedition 32/33 mission. The Crew Dragon will be the third spacecraft that Noguchi has flown to the orbiting laboratory.

Thomas Pesquet also will be a mission specialist for Crew-2, working with the commander and pilot to monitor the spacecraft during the dynamic launch and re-entry phases of flight. Pesquet also will become a long-duration crew member aboard the space station. He was selected as an astronaut candidate by ESA in May 2009 and worked as a Eurocom, communicating with astronauts during spaceflights from the mission control center. He previously flew as part of Expeditions 50 and 51, launching aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in October 2016 and spending 196 days in space, returning to Earth in June 2017. His mission also included two spacewalks to maintain the station: one to replace batteries on an electrical channel, and one to detect a cooling leak and service the robotic arm.

Mission Objectives

The Crew-2 members will conduct science and maintenance during a six-month stay aboard the orbiting laboratory and will return no earlier than Oct. 31. The Crew Dragon spacecraft can stay in orbit for at least 210 days, which is a NASA requirement.

Adding more crew members aboard the microgravity laboratory increases the time available for scientific activities. The November 2020 arrival of the Crew-1 astronauts more than doubled crew hours spent on scientific research and support activities, and Crew-2 will continue the important investigations and technology demonstrations that are preparing for future Artemis missions to the Moon, helping us improve our understanding of Earth’s climate, and improving life on our home planet. An important scientific focus on this expedition is continuing a series of Tissue Chips in Space studies. Tissue chips are small models of human organs containing multiple cell types that behave much the same as they do in the body. Another important element of Crew-2’s mission is augmenting the station’s solar power system by installing the first pair of six new ISS Roll-out Solar Arrays.

Crew Dragon also is delivering almost 250 pounds of cargo, new science hardware, and experiments, including a university student-led investigation to study possible causes for suppressed immune response in microgravity.

During their stay on the orbiting laboratory, Crew-2 astronauts expect to see a range of U.S. commercial spacecraft, including the Northrop Grumman Cygnus; SpaceX cargo Dragon; Boeing CST-100 Starliner, on its uncrewed flight to station; and NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 Dragon; which is targeted for launch no earlier than Oct. 23. During Crew-2, astronauts also will conduct a variety of spacewalks outside the space station, including the solar array installation.

At the conclusion of the mission, the Crew-2 astronauts will board Crew Dragon, which will then autonomously undock, depart the space station, and re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. Crew Dragon also will return to Earth important and time-sensitive research. NASA and SpaceX are capable of supporting seven splashdown sites located off Florida's east coast and in the Gulf of Mexico. Upon splashdown, the SpaceX recovery ship will pick up the crew and return to shore.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is delivering on its goal of safe, reliable, and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station from the United States through partnership with American private industry. This partnership is changing the arc of human spaceflight history by opening access to low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station to more people, more science, and more commercial opportunities.

The space station remains the springboard to NASA's next great leap in space exploration, including future missions to the Moon and, eventually, to Mars. For more than 20 years, humans have lived and worked continuously aboard the International Space Station, advancing scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth. As a global endeavor, 243 people from 19 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 3,000 research and educational investigations from researchers in 108 countries and areas.

Source: NASA.Gov

****

The four Crew-2 astronauts greet their families and friends outside of the Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building before heading to Launch Complex 39A, where Falcon 9 and Dragon Endeavour await, at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on April 23, 2021.
NASA / Aubrey Gemignani

European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Akihiko Hoshide can be seen walking through the Crew Access Arm to Dragon Endeavour at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A...on April 23, 2021.
NASA / Joel Kowsky

The engine plume from the Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Crew-2 astronauts is visible from the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, DC...on April 23, 2021.
NASA / Bill Ingalls

The Inspiration4 crew watches as Falcon 9 and Dragon lift off from Cape Canaveral, Florida with Crew-2!

The next crewed launch of Dragon will launch these four commercial astronauts in September. pic.twitter.com/KPU5xWSBWd

— Inspiration4 (@inspiration4x) April 23, 2021

NASA chief: Russian cosmonauts unlikely fly on U.S. crew capsules until next year

April 20th 2021 at 18:27
Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy has his Sokol launch and entry suit pressure checked before boarding a Soyuz spacecraft for liftoff April 9 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credit: NASA/GCTC/Irina Spector

NASA’s acting administrator said Tuesday he does not expect Russian cosmonauts to start launching to the International Space Station on U.S. commercial crew vehicles until next year.

A proposed agreement with Russia to ensure the space station is always staffed with an international crew is awaiting U.S. government approval. The no-funds-exchanged agreement has been in discussion by NASA and Russian space agency officials for years, but sign-off of a final deal has hit roadblocks in recent months.

Steve Jurczyk, NASA’s acting administrator, said Tuesday that the draft version of an “implementing agreement” between NASA and Roscosmos is still being reviewed by the U.S. State Department.

“We’re waiting for the final signatures from the State Department on the implementing agreement, and then we’ll provide that draft to Roscosmos and begin negotiations,” Jurczyk told Spaceflight Now in an interview.

He said he believes NASA is close to getting final State Department approval of the agreement’s text, but the clock has likely run out for getting the State Department signatures and finalizing the agreement with the Russian government in time to assign a Russian cosmonaut to a SpaceX crew mission later this year.

Once the agreement is in place, a Russian cosmonaut would have to be approved to travel to the United States, have a custom SpaceX-developed pressure suit manufactured, and receive basic training on the Crew Dragon spacecraft.

“I believe it’s now too late to develop a suit and do the training for Crew-3,” Jurczyk said, referring to a SpaceX Crew Dragon mission scheduled for launch Oct. 23. “So most likely the earliest mission to have a cosmonaut on it would be Crew-4.”

The Crew-4 mission is currently scheduled for launch no earlier than the first quarter of 2022.

Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi poses with a SpaceX pressure suit inside the International Space Station. Noguchi was the first international astronaut to fly on a U.S. commercial crew ship. Credit: NASA

Last November, NASA said it had submitted the draft agreement to the State Department for approval. At that time, NASA hoped to have the deal finalized in time to assign a Russian cosmonaut to the Crew-3 mission late this year.

Rookie NASA astronaut Raja Chari — a former U.S. Air Force fighter pilot — veteran physician-astronaut Tom Marshburn, and European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer have been assigned to the Crew-3 mission. NASA left open the Dragon’s fourth seat for a Russian cosmonaut, but that position is now expected to be filled by a crew member from NASA’s astronaut corps or another international partner.

Once NASA and Roscosmos sign the final agreement, managers want every U.S. crew launch to the space station to have a Russian cosmonaut on-board. And every launch of a Russian Soyuz crew capsule would have an astronaut from the United States or another partner qualified to operate NASA’s segment of the space station.

The agreement will help ensure there is always a crew member on the space station to operate the outpost’s Russian section and U.S. Operating Segment, or USOS, which includes U.S., Japanese, European, and Canadian hardware. If Russia’s Soyuz program or the U.S. crew vehicles are grounded, crew members from the other international partners will still be able to fly to the space station.

It would also guard against a medical emergency that could force half of the space station’s crew to leave the outpost early and return to Earth. If one spacecraft had to depart the station early, all of that capsule’s crew would have to come back to Earth to ensure they’re not stranded in orbit without a lifeboat.

That could force all Russian or all U.S. crew members to evacuate the space station, leaving critical parts of the spacecraft’s propulsion, life support, and control systems at risk.

International astronauts are already flying on SpaceX Crew Dragon missions. Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi launched on the Crew-1 mission — the first regular Crew Dragon flight — in November and is due to return to Earth next week.

The Crew-2 mission scheduled for launch Thursday will include Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and French-born mission specialist Thomas Pesquet, the first European Space Agency crew member to fly on Dragon. They will join NASA commander Shane Kimbrough and pilot Megan McArthur for a half-year on the space station.

NASA relied on Soyuz spacecraft for all crew transportation to and from the station from the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011 until the start of astronaut launches by SpaceX last year.

Members of the Soyuz MS-18 prime and backup crews pose for a photo April 9 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

NASA has paid the Russian government roughly $4 billion billion since 2006 to purchase Soyuz seats for astronauts from the United States and the station’s other international partners, according to a report in 2019 by NASA’s inspector general.

Flush with NASA money, Russian space contractors doubled the production of Soyuz crew capsules for launches beginning in 2009 to meet the demand for astronaut transportation to the space station. After NASA’s previous bulk purchase of Soyuz seats in 2017 expired, Russian officials cut back the Soyuz flight rate to two flights last year.

The Soyuz final seat NASA purchased from Russia was filled by astronaut Kate Rubins, who launched on a Soyuz spacecraft last October and landed with two Russian crewmates Saturday in Kazakhstan.

NASA arranged for another Soyuz seat on the most recent Russian crew launch April 9, but did not pay for the ride in cash. NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei launched on the mission after NASA booked the seat with the help of Axiom Space, a Houston-based company that brokers flights for space tourists and is planning its own private space station.

In exchange for paying for Vande Hei’s ride, Axiom will get a seat for one of it’s private customers on a future NASA-sponsored U.S. crew mission.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Soyuz MS-17 Spacecraft Descends To Earth

April 20th 2021 at 00:10

The Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft is seen as it lands in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan.

Russian capsule brings home three space fliers

April 17th 2021 at 05:08

STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS & USED WITH PERMISSION

The Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft lands in Kazakhstan. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Two cosmonauts and a NASA astronaut undocked from the International Space Station and plunged back to Earth early Saturday, landing on the steppe of Kazakhstan amid preparations in Florida for launch of another station-bound crew Thursday aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft.

With Russian recovery forces and NASA support personnel standing by, the Soyuz spacecraft’s central crew module, descending under a single orange-and-white parachute, settled to an on target rocket-assisted touchdown at 12:55 a.m. EDT (10:55 a.m. local time) to close out a 185-day mission.

Soyuz MS-17/63S commander Sergey Ryzhikov, flight engineer Sergey Kud-Sverchkov and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins waved, smiled broadly and high-fived support crews as they were carried from the capsule to nearby recliners for quick medical checks and satellite phone calls home to friends and family.

“It was awesome!” Rubins, a space veteran, exclaimed after her second Soyuz re-entry.

At the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, meanwhile, SpaceX engineers readied a Falcon 9 rocket for a first stage engine test firing early Saturday to set the stage for launch Thursday on a flight to ferry two NASA astronauts, a Frenchman and a Japanese astronaut to the space station for their own six-month stay.

The four “Crew-2” astronauts flew to the Florida spaceport Friday afternoon to prepare for flight.

“It is awesome being at Kennedy Space Center, especially on launch week,” commander Shane Kimbrough told reporters at the runway. “It’s definitely getting real. Our crew is extremely well trained (and) we are really excited and ready to go.”

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins after landing Saturday. She now has 300 days of spaceflight experience in two missions. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The Soyuz landing and Crew Dragon launch are the second and third flights in a record four-mission sequence over just three weeks to replace the station’s entire seven-member crew after long-duration stays in orbit.

It began on April 9 when Soyuz MS-18/64S commander Oleg Novitskiy, Pyotr Dubrov and NASA’s Mark Vande Hei blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, docking at the station after a two-orbit rendezvous.

They have now replaced Ryzhikov, Kud-Sverchkov and Rubins, who were launched to the orbital outpost last October. After a six-day handover, the outgoing trio bid their station crewmates farewell and undocked from the lab complex at 9:34 p.m. Friday

A four-minute 39-second rocket firing slowed the ship enough to drop out of orbit and 50 minutes later, the descent module landed as planned near the town of Dzhezkazgan.

Russian helicopters were standing by to ferry the crew to Karaganda. From there, Ryzhikov and Kud-Sverchkov planned to board a Russian jet for a flight back to Star City near Moscow while Rubins headed home to Houston aboard a NASA aircraft.

With the Soyuz crew safely back on Earth, NASA and SpaceX engineers are pressing ahead with work to ready the Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft for launch Thursday.

It will be the third piloted launch to orbit from U.S. soil since the shuttle program’s final flight in 2011 and the first featuring a previously flown first-stage booster and Crew Dragon ferry ship.

Following Saturday’s engine test firing, Kimbrough, McArthur, Pesquet and Hoshide plan to strap in early Sunday for a dress rehearsal countdown to run through launch-day procedures.

Liftoff is scheduled for 6:11 a.m. Thursday, setting up a docking at the space station Friday morning.

Kimbrough and his crew will be welcomed aboard the lab by space station commander Shannon Walker and fellow Crew Dragon astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, along with Novitskiy, Dubrov and Vande Hei.

After a weeklong handover to help familiarize their replacements with station operations, the Crew-1 astronauts will depart, riding their SpaceX capsule to a splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico south of Tallahassee, Florida, around 12:40 p.m. on April 28.

And with that, NASA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos will have replaced the station’s seven crew members with two launches and two landings in less than one month, a record pace for the space station program.

Soyuz MS-17 crew returns to Earth after 6 months aboard ISS

April 17th 2021 at 01:45
Soyuz MS-17 and its three crew members descend under a parachute toward the Kazakh Steppe in Kazakhstan. Credit: NASA

Soyuz MS-17 and its three crew members descend under a parachute toward the Kazakh Steppe in Kazakhstan. Credit: NASA

Three International Space Station Expedition 64 crew members returned to Earth after spending 185 days aboard the orbiting outpost.

Soyuz MS-17 with Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins undocked from the ISS at 9:34 p.m. EDT April 16 (01:34 UTC April 17). Less than 3.5 hours later, the spacecraft’s capsule landed on the Kazakh Steppe in Kazakhstan.

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, left, and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov, center, and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov returned to Earth April 17, 2021. Credit: NASA

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, left, and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov, center, and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov returned to Earth April 17, 2021. Credit: NASA

The return of this trio comes about a week after their replacements — Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitsky and Pyotr Dubrov and NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei — arrived at the ISS in Soyuz MS-18 on April 9.

Also aboard the space station, and awaiting their own crew handover, are the SpaceX Crew-1 Dragon astronauts: NASA’s Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi.

Upon undocking from the outpost, the space station officially transitioned from Expedition 64 to Expedition 65 with Walker commanding the increment until Crew-1’s departure, currently slated for the end of April, about a week after the Crew-2 Dragon astronauts arrive.

For Soyuz MS-17, their journey home started when they boarded their spacecraft and closed the hatches between their vehicle and the ISS. This occurred at 6:24 p.m. EDT (22:24 UTC), about three hours before undocking.

Once the spacecraft undocked from the Poisk module, located on “spaceward” side of the ISS, several departure burns were initiated to gradually move Soyuz MS-17 away from the orbiting laboratory.

Over the next several hours, the spacecraft continued to move away from the ISS to the point where it performed its deorbit burn, allowing it to make its way back to Earth. The 4-minute, 39-second burn occurred at 12:01 a.m. EDT (04:01 UTC).

A photo of the 10 astronauts and cosmonauts from three different spacecraft together aboard the International Space Station. Credit: Sergey Kud-Sverchkov/Roscosmos/NASA

A photo of the 10 astronauts and cosmonauts from three different spacecraft together aboard the International Space Station. Credit: Sergey Kud-Sverchkov/Roscosmos/NASA

About 25 minutes later, Soyuz MS-17 performed “tri-module separation,” which separated the orbital module and the service module from the descent module. Only the descent module, where the crew resides, has a heat shield to allow for safe re-entry into the atmosphere.

The capsule began re-entering Earth’s atmosphere at about 12:34 a.m. EDT (04:34 UTC). A parachute-assisted landing occurred at 12:55 a.m. EDT (04:55 UTC).

Within minutes, Russian search and rescue teams reached the capsule and began the process of helping the crew exit the craft, which had landed upright.

Soyuz MS-17 undocks from the International Space Station's Poisk module. Credit: NASA

Soyuz MS-17 undocks from the International Space Station’s Poisk module. Credit: NASA

The first out of the capsule was Ryzhikov. He was followed by Rubins and then Kud-Sverchkov.

They were each moved to chairs near the capsule for initial medical checks and opportunities to communicate with friends and family via a satellite phone.

After several minutes, the three were transported into a nearby inflatable medical tent for additional checks and to get out of their Sokol launch and entry suits.

From there, the crew is expected to board helicopters to fly to Karaganda, Kazakhstan, where they will part ways. Ryzhikov and Kud-Sverchkov will fly to Moscow and Rubins will return to Houston.

The Soyuz MS-17 crew launched to the ISS on Oct. 14, 2020. They spent 185 days in space for this mission.

This was Ryzhikov’s second spaceflight. His cumulative time in space now stands at 358 days. This was Kud-Sverchkov’s first trip to space.

Rubins concluded her second trip to the ISS. Her career time in space is now 300 days.

Video courtesy of NASA

The post Soyuz MS-17 crew returns to Earth after 6 months aboard ISS appeared first on SpaceFlight Insider.

Soyuz MS-17 safely returns three Station crewmembers to Kazakhstan

April 16th 2021 at 21:34

After more than six months in orbit, the Soyuz MS-17 mission has drawn to a close.  The craft departed the International Space Station with undocking right on time at 21:34 EDT on Friday, 16 April (01:34 UTC on Saturday, 17 April).

Sergey Ryzhikov, Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, and Kate Rubins then conducted final landing preparations before the deorbit burn commenced at 00:01 EDT / 04:01 UTC on Saturday, 17 April followed by a landing near Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan at 00:55 EDT / 01:55 UTC.

Undocking to deorbit timeline

Once physical separation was achieved from the Poisk module, springs imparted a 0.12 m/s separation velocity between the Station and Soyuz while both craft were in free-drift.  Ten seconds after separation, Soyuz began active attitude control.

Separation burn #1 occurred 3 minutes after undocking, at which point Soyuz burned its thrusters for 8 seconds to impart a 0.53 m/s velocity change to the craft.  Separation burn #2 followed and involved a 15 second burn to give Soyuz an additional 1.53 m/s push.

This second burn sent Soyuz out of the Station’s Keep Out Sphere and placed it on its initial free-flight trajectory to begin preparations for deorbit.

After closing the hatches between the Orbital and Descent Modules, the crew oriented Soyuz retrograde.  The 4 minute 38 second deorbit burn from the main engine mounted on the back of the Service and Propulsion Module began at 00:01:30 EDT / 04:01:30 UTC and imparted a 128 m/s deceleration to Soyuz, lowering its perigee into Earth’s atmosphere at a precise point to allow the module to land where intended.

Separation of the Soyuz into its three constituent components occurred 140 km over Egypt at 00:29:55 EDT / 04:29:55 UTC followed by Entry Interface — the point where it reaches the discernable atmosphere — at 121 km.

The plasma regime of reentry began at 80.6 kilometers altitude, at which point communications ceased with the craft as the intensity of the plasma blocked all communication frequencies.

Reestablishment of contact with Soyuz usually occurs first with acquisition of signal and transmission of tones to recovery forces who need to track the craft’s exact location.

Communications were reestablished once Soyuz exited the plasma environment at 37 km, which occurred at 00:39 EDT / 04:39 UTC.

Parachute deployment was commanded at 10.7 km above the local terrain, followed 13 minutes later at 00:55 EDT / 04:55 UTC by a retro-rocket-assisted landing.

This timeline was based on a nominal reentry trajectory.  Soyuz had a backup trajectory available — known as a Ballistic Reentry — in the event an emergency is detected after the deorbit burn occurs.

Comparison of a nominal v. ballistic reentry profile for Soyuz. (Credit: NASA)

This type of emergency reentry profile last occurred on back-to-back Soyuz TMA landings on the TMA-10 and -11 missions when the Service Module failed to fully separate from the Descent Module.

When this occurred, the Descent Module’s computers triggered a ballistic reentry on both flights – a trajectory designed to get the crew through reentry as quickly as possible to maintain their safety.

Ballistic reentries are much steeper than standard entries, exert higher G-force loads on the crew, and result in a landing hundreds of kilometers from the intended recovery zone.

In both the Soyuz TMA-10 and -11 cases, the ballistic reentry worked as intended with a safe recovery of the crew.

The Crew:

Sergey Nikolayvich Ryzhikov:

Soyuz MS-17 was commanded by Sergey Ryzhikov, a veteran Roscosmos cosmonaut who has racked up 358 days in space over the course of two long-duration flights to the ISS.

Ryzhikov was born on 19 August 1974, in Bugulma, a town now known as the Republic of Tatarstan — a federal subject of the Russian Federation.  He comes from a military background, having been a fighter pilot in the Russian Air Force, where he spent over 700 hours flying in high performance fighter jets.

Sergei Ryzhikov prior to his first flight into space. (Credit: NASA)

Selected by the Cosmonaut Corps in October 2006, he completed training in 2009, following which he earned the title of “Test Cosmonaut”.

In December 2014, he was assigned as a backup Flight Engineer for ISS Expedition 47/48, which successfully launched in March 2016.  Following, he was assigned as Flight Engineer for ISS Expedition 49/50.

He made his first flight into space on 19 October 2016 aboard Soyuz MS-02.  Ryzhikov served as the Commander of the Soyuz spacecraft and was joined by Russian cosmonaut Andrei Borisenko and NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough.  He spent 173 days in space as a Flight Engineer on Expeditions 49 and 50 before returning to Earth in April 2017.

Ryzhikov was then assigned as backup Commander for Soyuz MS-17 in November 2019, although crew changes in February 2020 resulted in him being bumped to the prime crew.  

Successfully launching on 14 October from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Ryzhikov arrived at the Station just 3 hours later, docking to the Rassvet module.  He served as Flight Engineer on ISS Expedition 63 and took command of the Station for Expedition 64 following the departure of Soyuz MS-16. 

Ryzhikov handed over command of the ISS to NASA astronaut Shannon Walker on Thursday 15 April.

Sergey Vladimirvich Kud-Sverchkov:

Sergey Kud-Sverchkov was the only first-time space flyer to launch on Soyuz MS-17 and served as Flight Engineer 1 aboard the spacecraft.

Soyuz MS-17 Flight Engineer 1 Sergey Kud-Sverchkov. (Credit: Roscosmos)

Born on 23 August 1983 in Baikonur, Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic (now The Republic of Kazakhstan), Kud-Sverchkov is unique among the many space travelers who have left Earth from the vast Kazakh steppe as he was born in the same city from which he then launched into space.

After graduating from Moscow State Technical University with a degree specializing in rocket engines in 2006, he went on to work at RSC Energia, the Russian corporation that builds the Soyuz spacecraft and rockets.  He worked at Energia until April 2010, when he was selected to train as a cosmonaut.

His training was completed in July 2012, and he qualified as a “test cosmonaut” the following month.  He was part of the Roscosmos specialization and improvement group for the ISS program until November 2019 when he was assigned as part of the backup crew for Soyuz MS-17 alongside Ryzhikov.

Like Ryzhikov, crew changes earlier in 2020 resulted in Kud-Sverchkov being bumped up to the prime crew in February.

After launch on 14 October 2020 and arrival at the Station, he served as a Flight Engineer for both Expeditions 63 and 64.

Dr. Kathleen Hallisey Rubins:

Dr. Kathleen “Kate” Rubins of NASA, who has spent 300 days in space over the course of two long-duration flights to the ISS, was Flight Engineer 2 for the Soyuz MS-17 mission.

Born in Farmington, Connecticut on 14 October 1978, Dr. Rubins launched into space for this mission on her 42nd birthday.

Kate Rubins, Flight Engineer 2. (Credit: NASA)

Rubins received a Bachelor of Science in Molecular Biology from the University of California in 1999 and went on to earn a doctorate in Cancer Biology from Stanford University in 2005.

She worked at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, where she conducted research into HIV-1.  Alongside the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infections Diseases and the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, she was part of a team that developed the first model of the smallpox infection.  She then led a team of scientists studying viral diseases at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Massachusetts.

Dr. Rubins was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in 2009, becoming part of the agency’s 20th Astronaut Group, also known as “The Chumps”.  She completed her training in November 2011, officially becoming available for future flight assignments.

Her first flight was as a Flight Engineer aboard ISS Expeditions 48/49.  She launched aboard Soyuz MS-01, the first flight of the newly upgraded Soyuz MS spacecraft, on 7 July 2016 alongside Russian cosmonaut Anatoli Ivanishin and Japanese astronaut Takuya Onishi.  Upon launch, she became the 60th woman to fly in space.

Over the course of Expeditions 48/49, she became the first person to sequence DNA in space and performed two spacewalks alongside fellow NASA astronaut Jeffrey Williams.

She returned to Earth alongside Ivanishin and Onishi on 30 October 2016.  With Soyuz MS-17, Dr. Rubins became the first member of her astronaut group to fly in space twice.

She is a member of NASA’s Artemis lunar astronaut corps and will begin training for lunar missions upon completion of Soyuz MS-17.

(Lead image: A Soyuz spacecraft descending under parachute toward the steppes of Kazakhstan. Credit: NASA/Roscosmos)

The post Soyuz MS-17 safely returns three Station crewmembers to Kazakhstan appeared first on NASASpaceFlight.com.

Live coverage: Soyuz crew lands in Kazakhstan

April 16th 2021 at 16:05

Live coverage of the Expedition 64 mission on the International Space Station. Text updates will appear automatically below; there is no need to reload the page. Follow us on Twitter.

Space station crew set for landing in Kazakhstan

April 16th 2021 at 15:44

STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS & USED WITH PERMISSION

Members of the Expedition 64 and 65 crews aboard the International Space Station this week during a handover between Soyuz missions. Credit: Sergey Kud-Sverchkov/Roscosmos

Two cosmonauts and a NASA astronaut wrapping up a six-month stay aboard the International Space Station readied their Soyuz ferry ship for a fiery plunge back to Earth early Saturday amid preparations in Florida for launch of another station-bound crew Thursday aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft.

While Russian recovery forces deployed in Kazakhstan Friday for the Soyuz landing, SpaceX engineers hauled a Falcon 9 rocket and the Crew Dragon to the launch pad a few hours before the ship’s three-man one-woman crew flew in to make final preparations for launch.

“It is awesome being at Kennedy Space Center, especially on launch week,” Crew-2 commander Shane Kimbrough told reporters at the runway. “It’s definitely getting real. Our crew is extremely well trained (and) we are really excited and ready to go.”

The Soyuz landing and Crew Dragon launch are the second and third flights in a record four-mission sequence over just three weeks to replace the station’s entire seven-member crew after six-month stays in orbit.

It began on April 9 when Soyuz MS-18/64S commander Oleg Novitskiy, Pyotr Dubrov and NASA’s Mark Vande Hei blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, docking at the station after a two-orbit rendezvous.

They are replacing Soyuz MS-17/63S commander Sergey Ryzhikov, flight engineer Sergey Kud-Sverchkov and NASA’s Kate Rubins, who were launched to the station last October. They planned to undock from the lab complex at 9:34 p.m. EDT Friday, setting up a landing on the steppe of Kazakhstan near the town of Dzhezkazgan at 12:56 a.m. Saturday (10:56 a.m. local time).

Russian recovery crews, flight surgeons and NASA support personnel were stationed near the landing site to help the returning station fliers out of the cramped crew compartment as they begin re-adjusting to gravity after 185 days in the weightlessness of space.

After brief on-site medical checks and satellite phone calls home to friends and family, all three will be ferried by helicopter to Karaganda. From there, the two cosmonauts will board a Russian jet for a flight back to Star City near Moscow while Rubins will head home to Houston aboard a NASA aircraft.

A Soyuz crew ship and Progress cargo freighter docked at the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

With the Soyuz crew safely back on Earth, NASA and SpaceX engineers will press ahead with work to ready the Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft for launch Thursday.

The rocket, featuring a previously flown first stage booster and crew capsule, was hauled out to pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center Friday morning. Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Japanese crewmate Akihiko Hoshide arrived at the Florida spaceport shortly before 1 p.m.

Engineers plan to test fire the Falcon 9’s first stage engines Saturday and the astronauts are expected to strap in early Sunday for a dress rehearsal countdown. Launch is scheduled for 6:11 a.m. Thursday, setting up a docking at the space station Friday morning.

They will be welcomed aboard by space station commander Shannon Walker and fellow Crew Dragon astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, along with Novitskiy, Dubrov and Vande Hei.

After a weeklong “handover” to help familiarize their replacements with station operations, the Crew-1 astronauts will depart, riding their SpaceX capsule to a splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico south of Tallahassee, Florida, around 12:40 p.m. on April 28.

And with that, NASA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos will have replaced the station’s seven crew members with two launches and two landings in less than one month, a record pace for the space station program.

Soyuz Launch As Seen From Orbit

April 11th 2021 at 12:14

Sergey Kud-Sverchkov @KudSverchkov #SoyuzMS18 crewed spacecraft was launched today from the Baikonur Cosmodrome this morning.

Soyuz MS-18 reaches International Space Station after 2 orbits

April 9th 2021 at 22:50
Soyuz MS-18 launches from Kazakhstan on a two-orbit trek to the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

Soyuz MS-18 launches from Kazakhstan on a two-orbit trek to the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

Two Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut took the express lane to the International Space Station, reaching the outpost in their Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft less than four hours after launch.

Aboard were cosmonauts Oleg Novitsky and Pyotr Dubrov and NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei. Liftoff atop a Soyuz 2.1a rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan took place at 3:42 a.m. EDT (7:42 UTC) April 9, 2021. After just two orbits, or 3.5 hours, Soyuz MS-18 docked with the Rassvet module.

Docking officially took place at 7:05 a.m. EDT (11:05 UTC) with hatch opening taking place about two hours later at 9:20 a.m. EDT (13:20 UTC).

Upon entering the space station, the population temporarily increased to 10, the largest since the end of the space shuttle era in 2011. The other crew members include three from Soyuz MS-18 — Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov and NASA’s Kate Rubins — and four from Crew-1 Dragon — NASA’s Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Soichi Noguchi.

After docking, the three new members joined with the seven already aboard the outpost in the Zvezda service module for a welcome ceremony. Credit: NASA

After docking, the three new members joined with the seven already aboard the outpost in the Zvezda service module for a welcome ceremony. Credit: NASA

The Soyuz MS-18 trio are replacing the Soyuz MS-17 crew, who have been aboard the ISS since Oct. 14, 2020, and are slated to return to Earth next Saturday, April 17.

Once Soyuz MS-17 departs the ISS, Expedition 65 will officially start with Walker being the commander until Crew-1 Dragon’s departure later in April.

According to NASA, the Expedition 65 crew is expected to “continue work on hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science, and Earth science aboard the International Space Station.”

This is the third spaceflight for 49-year-old Novitsky, who previously spent half a year aboard the ISS in 2010 and again in 2016-2017.

54-year-old Vande Hei is on his second spaceflight after spending a half-year aboard the space station between September 2017 and February 2018. During that time he performed four spacewalks totaling 20 hours, 45 minutes.

Dubrov, 43, is on his first spaceflight and together with Vande Hei could spend nearly a year aboard the ISS in order to trade seats with spaceflight participants when Soyuz MS-19 flies to the outpost in September.

As of right now, Soyuz MS-19 is slated to carry Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov as well as Russian film director Klim Shipenko and an unnamed Russian actress.

Shipenko and the actress will return to Earth in Soyuz MS-18 in mid-October while Dubrov and Vande Hei will return in Soyuz MS-19 in March 2022.

The Soyuz MS-18 launch comes just a few days shy of the 60th anniversary of the first human spaceflight. On April 12, 1961, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin flew into space for a single orbit.

Video courtesy of NASA

The post Soyuz MS-18 reaches International Space Station after 2 orbits appeared first on SpaceFlight Insider.

Soyuz crew welcomed aboard International Space Station

April 9th 2021 at 12:45

STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS & USED WITH PERMISSION

The three new arrivals from the Soyuz MS-18 mission, seen in white flight suits, joined the six-member crew of the International Space Station after docking Friday. Credit: NASA TV/Spaceflight Now

NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and two cosmonauts blasted off from Kazakhstan Friday and docked with the International Space Station after a two-orbit chase, the first step in a record crew rotation requiring two launches and two landings with four different spacecraft in just three weeks.

The launching came three days before the 60th anniversary of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s historic flight on April 12, 1961, to become the first man in space. More than 570 men and women have made the trip since then, fueling competition and then cooperation between Russia and the United States that has culminated in the International Space Station.

“When we started, we were competing with each other and that was one of the reasons we were so successful at the beginning of human spaceflight,” Vande Hei said at a pre-launch news conference. “And as time went on, we realized that by working together, we could achieve even more. That’s continuing to this day, and I hope that will continue into the future.”

Kicking off replacement of the station’s current seven-member crew, Vande Hei, commander Oleg Novitskiy and flight engineer Pyotr Dubrov thundered away from the Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard the Soyuz MS-18/64S spacecraft at 3:42 a.m. Friday (12:42 p.m. local time).

Climbing through a clear blue sky, the Soyuz 2.1a rocket boosted the crew ship smoothly into space and after a speedy two-orbit rendezvous, the spacecraft glided in for docking at the lab’s Earth-facing Rassvet module at 7:05 a.m.

Welcoming the new crew aboard were Soyuz MS-17/63S commander Sergey Ryzhikov and his two crewmates, Sergey Kud-Sverchkov and Kate Rubins, along with SpaceX Crew-1 Dragon astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi.

“Father, when are you coming back?” Novitskiy’s young daughter asked during a traditional video conference with family members back on Earth.

The expanded 10-member crew will enjoy a week together before Ryzhikov, Kud-Sverchkov and Rubins undock and return to Earth aboard their own Soyuz, landing on the steppe of Kazakhstan at 12:56 a.m. EDT on April 17 to close out a 185-day mission.

The Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft takes off Friday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Five days after that, at 6:11 a.m. on April 22, NASA and SpaceX plan to launch a Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to ferry Crew-2 commander Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, Japan’s Akihiko Hoshide and ESA’s Thomas Pesquet to the station, briefly boosting the lab’s crew to 11.

After helping their replacements get familiar with station systems, the SpaceX Crew-1 astronauts — Hopkins, Glover, Walker and Noguchi — will head for home, splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida on April 28 to wrap up a 164-day flight, the first operational mission by a SpaceX Crew Dragon.

And with that, the space station crew swap out will be complete. The Crew-2 astronauts and the Soyuz MS-18/64S crew are expected to be replaced, in turn, in late September and mid October respectively.

But Vande Hei, a last-minute addition to the latest Soyuz crew, does not know when he will be able to hitch a ride home. While his flight is officially scheduled to last six months, he could end up living aboard the space station for a full year.

That’s because NASA managers want to guarantee a continuous U.S. presence aboard the lab to make sure a properly trained NASA astronaut is on board at all times to operate U.S. systems even if launches are interrupted or something forces a partial evacuation.

“The plan is for me to be on board for six months,” Vande Hei said from Moscow in a pre-launch interview with CBS News. “Of course, it’s a very dynamic situation, so we try to make sure we’re ready for anything. I certainly feel emotionally prepared to stay on orbit well longer than that six months that’s planned.”

He added, “there are a variety of things that could impact when I come back (but) I’m also very certain that regardless of what happens, we’ll make sure we have a U.S. presence continuously on the space station.”

NASA wants to ensure the continued launch of American astronauts aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft, and Russian cosmonauts aboard U.S. ferry ships, even though the U.S. space agency funded development of commercial crew ships to end its sole reliance on Russia for transportation to and from the station.

Russian cosmonauts are not trained to operate NASA’s solar power system, computers, stabilizing gyroscopes and other systems. Likewise, U.S. astronauts are equally unprepared to operate Russian propulsion, docking and other mission-critical systems.

If a medical emergency or some other crisis forced a Russian or NASA crew to make an unplanned departure, the crew members remaining behind, trained to operate U.S. or Russian systems — but not both — might not be able to maintain the station on their own.

Likewise, NASA wants to protect against the possibility of a launch mishap or a major technical problem that could interrupt or suspend crew rotation flights.

There are no available Soyuz seats in the near term — Rubins used NASA’s last directly purchased seat — and in any case, NASA is no longer authorized to buy rides on Russian spacecraft. Vande Hei’s seat was obtained through Houston-based Axiom Space in exchange for a future flight by a commercial astronaut on a NASA-sponsored ferry ship.

NASA managers hope to work out an agreement with the Russian space agency to ensure crew continuity aboard the station by launching at least one NASA astronaut aboard each Soyuz flight and one cosmonaut aboard each U.S. commercial crew mission.

In the meantime, Vande Hei is prepared to stay in orbit however long it takes for a seat to open up.

“The attitude we’re taking is that every step of this (mission) means I’m just that much closer to getting home, whether that be six months or longer than that,” he said. “My wife’s really got a fantastic attitude. I’ve deployed multiple times (but) for my family, this would be a record setter.”

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