International Space Station
Russia will pull out of the International Space Station after 2024 and focus on building its own orbiting outpost, the country’s new space chief said Tuesday amid high tensions between Moscow and the West over the fighting in Ukraine. The announcement, while not unexpected, throws into question the future of the 24-year-old space station, with experts saying it would be extremely difficult — a “nightmare,” by one reckoning — to keep it running without the Russians. NASA and its partners had hoped to continue operating it until 2030. “The decision to leave the station after 2024 has been made,” Yuri Borisov, appointed this month to lead the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, said during a meeting with President Vladimir Putin. He added: “I think that by that time we will start forming a Russian orbiting station.” The space station has long been a symbol of post-Cold War international teamwork in the name of science but is now one of the last areas of cooperation between the U.S. and the Kremlin. Borisov’s statement reaffirmed previous declarations by Russian space officials about Moscow’s intention to leave the space station after 2024 when the current international arrangements for its operation end. Russian officials have long talked about their desire to launch the country’s own space station and have complained that the wear and tear on the aging International Space Station is compromising safety and could make it difficult to extend its lifespan. Cost may also be a factor: With Elon Musk’s SpaceX company now flying NASA astronauts to and from the space station, the Russian Space Agency lost a major source of income. For years, NASA had been paying tens of millions of dollars per seat for rides to and from the station aboard Russian Soyuz rockets. The Russian announcement is certain to stir speculation that it is part of Moscow’s maneuvering to win relief from Western sanctions over the conflict in Ukraine. Borisov’s predecessor, Dmitry Rogozin, said last month that Moscow could take part in negotiations about a possible extension of the station’s operations only if the U.S. lifts its sanctions against Russian space industries. The space station is jointly run by Russia, the U.S., Europe, Japan and Canada. The first piece was put in orbit in 1998, and the outpost has been continuously inhabited for nearly 22 years. It is used to conduct scientific research in zero gravity and test out technology for future journeys to the moon and Mars. It typically has a crew of seven, who spend months at a time aboard the station as it orbits about 260 miles (420 kilometers) above Earth. Three Russians, three Americans and one Italian are now on board. The $100 billion-plus complex, which is about as long as a football field, consists of two main sections, one run by Russia, the other by the U.S. and the other countries. It was not immediately clear what will have to be done to the Russian side of the complex to continue safely operating the space station once Moscow pulls out. Former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who spent 340 continuous days aboard the International Space Station in 2015 and 2016, said that the Russian statement “could be just more bluster,” noting that ”after 2024” is vague and open-ended. “I believe Russia will stay as long as they can afford to as without ISS they have no human spaceflight program,” he said. “Cooperation with the West also shows some amount of legitimacy to other, nonaligned nations and to their own people, which Putin needs as the war in Ukraine has damaged his credibility.” Former Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield tweeted in reaction to the announcement: “Remember that Russia’s best game is chess.” Kelly said the design of the station would make it difficult but not impossible for the remaining nations to operate it if Russia were to withdraw. Read: NASA’s new telescope shows star death, dancing galaxies Jordan Bimm, a historian of science, technology and medicine at the University of Chicago, said the Russian statement “does not bode well for the future of the ISS,” adding that “it creates a constellation of uncertainties about maintaining the station which don’t have easy answers.” “What will `leaving’ look like?” he questioned. “Will the last cosmonauts simply undock a Soyuz and return to Earth, leaving the Russian-built modules attached? Will they render them inoperable before leaving? Will NASA and its international partners have to negotiate to buy them out and continue using them? Can these modules even be maintained without Russian know-how?” Bimm said that theoretically it is possible to keep the station running after the Russians bail out, but “practically it could be a nightmare depending on how hard Russia wanted to make it for NASA and its remaining partners.” If the Russian components of the station were detached or inoperable, the most immediate problem would be how to boost the complex periodically to maintain its orbit, he said. Russian spacecraft that arrive at the station with cargo and crew members are used to help align the station and raise its orbit. Scott Pace, director of George Washington University’s space policy institute, said other considerations include replacing the ground communications that Moscow provides. He said, too, that “it remains to be seen whether the Russians will, in fact, be able to launch and maintain their own. independent station.” Russia has made no visible effort so far to develop its own space station, and the task appears increasingly daunting now amid the crisis in Ukraine and the Western sanctions that have limited Russia’s access to Western technology. Well before the development of the International Space Station, the Soviets — and then the Russians — had a number of their own space stations, including Mir. The U.S. likewise had Skylab. John Logsdon, founder and former director of the George Washington University institute, said NASA has had plenty of time to prepare for a Russian withdrawal, given the threats coming out of Moscow, and would be derelict in its duty if it hadn’t been thinking about this for several years. “One alternative is to declare victory with the station and use this as an excuse to deorbit it and put the money into exploration,” he said, adding: “Its political value clearly has declined over time.”
Russia will opt out of the International Space Station after 2024 and focus on building its own orbiting outpost, the country's newly appointed space chief said Tuesday. Yuri Borisov, who was appointed earlier this month to lead the state-controlled space corporation Roscosmos, said during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin that Russia will fulfill its obligations to other partners at the International Space Station before it leaves the project. “The decision to leave the station after 2024 has been made,” Borisov said. Borisov's statement reaffirmed previous declarations by Russian space officials about Moscow's intention to leave the space outpost after 2024. It comes amid soaring tensions between Russia and the West over the Kremlin's military action in Ukraine. Despite the rift, NASA and Roscosmos made a deal earlier this month for astronauts to continue riding Russian rockets and for Russian cosmonauts to catch lifts to the International Space Station with SpaceX beginning this fall. Read: New Russian lab briefly knocks space station out of position The agreement ensures that the space station will always have at least one American and one Russian on board to keep both sides of the orbiting outpost running smoothly, according to NASA and Russian officials. The swap had long been in the works and was finalized despite frictions over Ukraine in a sign of continuing Russia-U.S. cooperation in space.
Four astronauts in orbit since spring headed back to Earth on Monday, aiming for a late night splashdown off the Florida coast. The undocking of their SpaceX capsule from the International Space Station also paved the way for a launch of their four replacements as early as Wednesday night. Read:China's 1st woman to spacewalk works 6 hours outside station The newcomers were scheduled to launch first, but NASA switched the order because of bad weather and an astronaut's undisclosed medical condition. The welcoming duties will now fall to the lone American and two Russians left behind at the space station. NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, Japan's Akihiko Hoshide and France's Thomas Pesquet should have been back Monday morning, but high wind in the recovery zone delayed their homecoming. Their splashdown was planned for the Gulf of Mexico off Pensacola. “One more night with this magical view. Who could complain? I’ll miss our spaceship!” Pesquet tweeted alongside a brief video showing the space station illuminated against the blackness of space and the twinkling city lights on the nighttime side of Earth. From the space station, NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei -- midway through a one-year flight -- bid farewell to each of his departing friends, telling McArthur "I’ll miss hearing your laughter in adjacent modules.” Before leaving the neighborhood, the four took a spin around the space station to take pictures. This was the first time SpaceX attempted a flyaround like this; NASA's shuttles used to do it all the time before their retirement a decade ago. Read: Russian filmmakers land after shoot aboard space station It wasn't the most comfortable ride back. The toilet in their capsule was broken, and so the astronauts needed to rely on diapers for the eight-hour trip home. They shrugged it off late last week as just one more challenge in their mission. The first issue arose shortly after their April liftoff; Mission Control warned a piece of space junk was threatening to collide with their capsule. It turned out to be a false alarm. Then in July, thrusters on a newly arrived Russian lab inadvertently fired and sent the station into a spin. The four astronauts took shelter in their docked SpaceX capsule, ready to make a hasty departure if necessary. Among the upbeat milestones: four spacewalks to enhance the station's solar power, a movie-making visit by a Russian film crew and the first-ever space harvest of chile peppers. Their 200-day mission began last April.
Northrop Grumman’s latest space station delivery includes pizza for seven. The company’s Cygnus cargo ship rocketed away from Virginia’s eastern shore Tuesday. It should reach the International Space Station on Thursday. Read: Virgin Galactic restarts space-trip sales at $450,000 and up The 8,200-pound (3,700-kilogram) shipment includes fresh apples, tomatoes and kiwi, along with a pizza kit and cheese smorgasbord for the seven station astronauts. Also flying: a mounting bracket for new solar wings launching to the orbiting lab next year, a material simulating moon dust and dirt that will be used to create items from the space station’s 3D printer, slime mold for a French educational experiment called Blob and an infrared-detecting device meant as a prototype for future tracking satellites. It is Northrop Grumman’s 16th supply run for NASA and its biggest load yet. The company’s Antares rocket hoisted the capsule from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. “Aloha to the S.S. Ellison Onizuka,” Northrop Grumman said via Launch Control minutes before liftoff. The capsule was named for Hawaii’s Onizuka, the first Asian American in space who died in the 1986 Challenger launch disaster. Read:New Russian lab briefly knocks space station out of position NASA’s other shipper, SpaceX, will follow with a cargo run in a few weeks. The space station is currently home to three Americans, two Russians, one French and one Japanese.
A newly arrived Russian science lab briefly knocked the International Space Station out of position Thursday when it accidentally fired its thrusters. For 47 minutes, the space station lost control of its orientation when the firing occurred a few hours after docking, pushing the orbiting complex from its normal configuration. The station’s position is key for getting power from solar panels and or communications. Communications with ground controllers also blipped out twice for a few minutes. Flight controllers regained control using thrusters on other Russian components at the station to right the ship, and it is now stable and safe, NASA said. Also read: 18-year-old joining Blue Origin’s 1st passenger spaceflight “We haven’t noticed any damage,” space station program manager Joel Montalbano said in a late afternoon press conference. “There was no immediate danger at anytime to the crew.” Montalbano said the crew didn’t really feel any movement or any shaking. NASA said the station moved 45 degrees out of attitude, about one-eighth of a complete circle. The complex was never spinning, NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs said. NASA’s human spaceflight chief Kathy Lueders called it “a pretty exciting hour.” The incident caused NASA to postpone a repeat test flight for Boeing’s crew capsule that had been set for Friday afternoon from Florida. It will be Boeing’s second attempt to reach the 250-mile-high station before putting astronauts on board; software problems botched the first test. Russia’s long-delayed 22-ton (20-metric-ton) lab called Nauka arrived earlier Thursday, eight days after it launched from the Russian launch facility in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Also read: No ET, no answers: Intel report is inconclusive about UFOs The launch of Nauka, which will provide more room for scientific experiments and space for the crew, had been repeatedly delayed because of technical problems. It was initially scheduled to go up in 2007. In 2013, experts found contamination in its fuel system, resulting in a long and costly replacement. Other Nauka systems also underwent modernization or repairs. Stretching 43 feet (13 meters) long, Nauka became the first new compartment for the Russian segment of the outpost since 2010. On Monday, one of the older Russian units, the Pirs spacewalking compartment, undocked from the station to free up room for the new lab. Nauka will require many maneuvers, including up to 11 spacewalks beginning in early September, to prepare it for operation. The space station is currently operated by NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei, Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur; Oleg Novitsky and Pyotr Dubrov of Russia’s Roscosmos space corporation; Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet. In 1998, Russia launched the station’s first compartment, Zarya, which was followed in 2000 by another big piece, Zvezda, and three smaller modules in the following years. The last of them, Rassvet, arrived at the station in 2010. Russian space officials downplayed the incident with Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos, tweeting: “All in order at the ISS. The crew is resting, which is what I advise you to do as well.”
A SpaceX capsule carrying four astronauts departed the International Space Station late Saturday, aiming for a rare nighttime splashdown to end the company’s second crew flight. It would be the first U.S. splashdown in darkness since Apollo 8′s crew returned from the moon in 1968. NASA’s Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi, headed home in the same Dragon capsule that delivered them to the space station last November. The ride back was expected to take just 6 1/2 hours. Read Also: China launches main part of its 1st permanent space station “Thanks for your hospitality,” Hopkins radioed as the capsule undocked 260 miles (420 kilometers) above Mali. SpaceX targeted a splashdown around 3 a.m. Sunday in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Panama City, Florida. Despite the early hour, the Coast Guard deployed extra patrols — and spotlights — to keep any night-owl sightseers away. The capsule of the first SpaceX crew was surrounded by pleasure boaters last summer, posing a safety risk. Hopkins, the spacecraft commander, rocketed into orbit with his crew on Nov. 15 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Their replacements arrived a week ago aboard their own Dragon capsule — the same one that launched SpaceX’s first crew last spring. The four should have been back by now, but high offshore wind kept them at the space station a few extra days. SpaceX and NASA determined the best weather would be before dawn. The delays allowed Glover to celebrate his 45th birthday in space Friday. Read Also: Biggest space station crowd in decade after SpaceX arrival “Gratitude, wonder, connection. I’m full of and motivated by these feelings on my birthday, as my first mission to space comes to an end,” Glover tweeted. Saturday night’s undocking left seven astronauts at the space station: three Americans, two Russians, one Japanese and one French. The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
The International Space Station’s population swelled to 11 on Saturday with the jubilant arrival of SpaceX’s third crew capsule in less than a year. It’s the biggest crowd up there in more than a decade. All of the astronauts — representing the U.S., Russia, Japan and France — managed to squeeze into camera view for a congratulatory call from the leaders of their space agencies. “In this tough situation around the world, I believe you have brought courage and hope for all of us,” Japanese Space Agency President Hiroshi Yamakawa said from his country’s flight control center, referring to the global pandemic. A recycled SpaceX capsule carrying four astronauts arrived at the space station a day after launching from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The Dragon capsule docked autonomously with the orbiting outpost more than 260 miles (420 kilometers) above the Indian Ocean. The hatches swung open a couple hours later, uniting all 11 space travelers. “Man, it is awesome to see the 11 of you on station,” said NASA’s acting administrator, Steve Jurczyk. He noted that this will be the norm, now that SpaceX is regularly flying crews. The newcomers will spend six months at the space station. They’ll replace four astronauts who will return to Earth in their own Dragon capsule Wednesday to end a half-year mission. NASA deliberately planned for a brief overlap so the outgoing SpaceX crew could show the new arrivals around. Also read: China names Mars rover for traditional fire god Although this was SpaceX’s third crew flight for NASA, it was the first to use a vehicle that’s flown before, an essential part of a plan by SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk to push to the moon and Mars. The Dragon capsule was used for SpaceX’s first crew launch last May, while the Falcon rocket soaring Friday hoisted crew two in November. It was the first time two SpaceX crew Dragons were parked there at the same time — practically side by side. NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur — the commander and pilot of the returning Dragon — monitored their capsule’s flat screen computers during the morning rendezvous. They could have taken control if necessary, but the autonomous system did its job, much like a self-driving car. Also checking into the space station: France’s Thomas Pesquet and Japan’s Akihiko Hoshide. Both have lived there before, as has Kimbrough. But it was the first station visit for McArthur. She flew up in the same seat and the same capsule — named Endeavour — as her husband, Bob Behnken, did on SpaceX’s debut crew mission. The European Space Agency’s director general, Josef Aschbacher, joked that the space station needs expansion with so many on board. Pesquet — the first European to fly on a commercial crew capsule — noted that the space station has changed quite a bit since his last visit four years ago, with more people and types of spacecraft. “We’re so happy to see our friends,” he said. “We wish we could keep them a little bit longer, but not too long as well, because 11 people is a lot on a space station.” Also read: Spacewalking astronauts prep station for new solar wings The all-time record is 13, set during NASA’s space shuttle era. The current population includes six Americans, two Russians, two Japanese and one French. It will shrink by four on Wednesday when three Americans and one Japanese depart for home and a splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico. NASA turned to private companies for space station deliveries after the shuttles retired in 2011. SpaceX began supply runs in 2012, honing its skills before launching astronauts and ending NASA’s reliance on Russia. NASA also hired Boeing for taxi service, but the company’s Starliner capsule isn’t expected to fly astronauts until next year.
NASA and SpaceX are targeting 2:40 a.m. EDT Saturday, Oct. 31, for the launch of the agency's SpaceX Crew-1 mission with astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), according to a NASA briefing on Tuesday.