International Space Station ‘Lost’ Without Russia, Says NASA Chief

The International Space Station is featured in this image photographed by an STS-133 crew member on space shuttle Discovery after the station and shuttle began their post-undocking relative separation. Undocking of the two spacecraft occurred at 7 a.m. (EST) on March 7, 2011.

A top NASA official confirmed Wednesday that the US has no backup plan to maintain the International Space Station if Russia should decide to pull out of the joint operation.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden’s frank admission of US dependence on Russia for the ISS’ continued existence follows his reluctance to address the issue head on, the Houston Chronicle reported.

“We would make an orderly evacuation,” Bolden said at a US House Appropriations subcommittee, acknowledging that both countries are heavily reliant on one another, and should that agreement deteriorate, it would mean curtains for the $140 billion dollar space station.

The new chairman of the space and science subcommittee, Texas Republican Rep. John Culberson, pressured Bolden into giving a direct answer.


“You are forcing me into this answer, and I like to give you real answers,” Bolden finally said. “I don’t want to try and BS anybody.”

The question of continued US-Russia cooperation on the ISS has come to the fore amid deteriorating diplomatic relations between the two countries over Ukraine’s civil war.  NASA’s admission that they have no other option without Russia confirms growing concerns.


Russia provides transport for US astronauts to and from the ISS, which orbits about 250 miles above the Earth, since President George W. Bush signed off on retiring US shuttles before a replacement was ready. While private companies like Boeing and SpaceX are working on alternative methods of ferrying astronauts, their plans won’t bear fruit until 2017 at the earliest, raising real concerns about the fate of the US space program.


USA wants to give up Russian RD-180 engines

December 16, 2014 Viktor Kuzmin, specially for RIR
In early December 2014 the U.S. Congress approved a ban on purchasing Russian RD-180 engines. However, this decision is unlikely to be implemented in the near future. Orbital Sciences announced on Dec. 10 that it will now be using the Atlas V system fitted with the RD-180 to launch the Cygnus spacecraft.
USA wants to give up Russian RD-180 engines The Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket, with the Cygnus spacecraft onboard suffers a catastrophic anomaly moments after launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0A, Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2014, at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Source: AP

The U.S. plans to discontinue the use of Russian RD-180 engines. They are currently being used by the United Launch Alliance (ULA) company in its Atlas V carrier rockets. The decision was passed by the U.S. Congress in early December 2014.

The need to develop a new U.S. engine has been discussed over the previous decade. The drastic deterioration in U.S.-Russian relations over the conflict in Ukraine has further spurred American politicians’ desire to end dependence on Russian supplies.

Senator John McCain demanded that the U.S. Department of Defense immediately end its cooperation with companies that purchase Russian engines. However, the Committee on Armed Services concluded that the move could threaten U.S. national security.

That is why the ULA was permitted to continue using Russian engines until 2019, when an American replacement is scheduled to be ready. The U.S. will have to spend over $577 billion to develop a new engine. According to a recent piece in Fortune, there are no strong players on the American market at the moment able to create a competitive equivalent.

Russian experts point out that this decision might destroy a whole segment of the market since the RD-180 engine was specifically designed for U.S. rockets. “There is a close link between an engine and a carrier rocket,” says Ivan Moiseyev, head of the Space Policy Institute.

“In order to use the RD-180 in Russia or China, it would be necessary to design a launch system that would meet each country’s specific characteristics. So far, there are no projects like that.”

The world’s best engine?

The RD-180 is manufactured at the Energomash plant in the town of Khimki in Moscow Region. These engines have been used by the ULA consortium, set up by Boeing and Lockheed Martin, to power the first stage of the Atlas V launch vehicle for a long time. The latter is used to launch both civilian and military satellites commissioned by the Pentagon.

According to Moiseyev, the RD-180 is one of the world’s best engines in its class. It was designed on the basis of the RD-170 engine that was used to power the Energia and Zenit carrier rockets. “Modern liquid-fuelled rocket engines have reached their theoretical limit in terms of efficiency,” says Moiseyev.

“The RD-180 uses the most advanced, so-called ‘closed’ engine configuration, very high chamber pressure. After 57 successful launches, the RD-180 has demonstrated 100-percent reliability.”

In addition, according to experts, the RD-180 remains the best engine in terms of value. Energomash told RIR that before 2010, RD-180 engines were sold to Americans at a loss. However, in 2010-2011 the plant started turning a profit, which allowed Energomash to spend some of the revenues to develop its production facilities.

Under a contract with the United States Air Force, the ULA must carry out 38 launches before 2020. Eight of them have been carried out this year. The company has 16 more RD-180 engines left. According to Alexander Zheleznyakov, an academic with the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics named for Tsiolkovsky, this was mutually beneficial as it had a positive effect on space exploration globally.

“The Americans have been using our RD-180 engines for many years and there have never been any complaints,” says Zheleznyakov. “They are making an essential economic and financial contribution to the ISS program.”

Competition, monopolies and joint ventures

RD-180 engines are used only by American launch vehicles and the discontinuation of supplies will hit Energomash hard, Moiseyev points out. “Most likely, Energomash will have to cut its staff considerably and seek budget financing or subsidies to cope with the higher prices,” says Moiseyev. He adds that Russia is using the RD-170 and the single-chamber RD-191 for its Angara launch vehicle.

In 2013, there was a competition for the RD-180 in the U.S. between the ULA and Orbital Sciences, which also wanted to buy the engines for its Antares rocket. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission launched an antimonopoly probe against the ULA, a Boeing and Lockheed Martin joint venture.

The company was suspected of unlawfully preventing its competitors’ access to components supplied by RD Amross, a joint U.S.-Russian venture uniting Energomash and the U.S. company Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. The former manufactures RD-180 engines, while the latter supplies them to the ULA for Atlas V launch systems.

Orbital Sciences had to use liquid-fuelled Aerojet AJ-26 engines, a modification of the old NK-22 engines made by the Samara-based Kuznetsov Design Bureau. They were developed during the Soviet period for the super-heavy N-1 rocket, but the project was closed in the 1970s along with the Soviet lunar program.

In October 2014 an Antares launch vehicle carrying a Cygnus cargo spacecraft that was slated to deliver over two tons of cargo to the ISS exploded at launch. After that Orbital Sciences decided to discontinue the use of any Russian engines. However, on Dec. 10, the company announced that it had signed an official partnership agreement with the ULA: Cygnus spacecraft will be launched with Atlas V carrier rockets fitted with RD-180 engines.

US to Stop Using Soyuz Spacecraft, Invest in Domestic Private Space Industry – Reports

Launch of Soyuz-2 Rocket

12:28 22/08/2014 

MOSCOW, August 22 (RIA Novosti) – NASA is expected to sign a multibillion-dollar deal with a private company to launch US astronauts from the United States instead of paying Russia to use its Soyuz spacecraft, according to The Washington Post.

“In the coming weeks, NASA is expected to announce its long-awaited solution: a multibillion-dollar contract to build a US spacecraft, which could help reignite a struggling American space program,” the newspaper reported.

It went on to say that the contract would enable the United States to launch astronauts from its own soil instead of paying in excess of $70 million for a seat on the Soyuz.

At the moment, three contenders for the contract with NASA are named – SpaceX, Sierra Nevada and Boeing – but they have yet to prove their ability to safely fly humans into orbit. The company that will end up striking a deal will also have to pass NASA’s certification program, which could take years.

SpaceX and Boeing have developed capsules that can take astronauts to space, while Sierra Nevada has come forth with a “space plane,” resembling a miniature version of the space shuttle that can land on runways.

Attempts at launching a commercial space program were made during the presidency of George W. Bush but President Barack Obama’s administration did not show much support for the initiative, causing time delays.

NASA hopes to carry out two trips to the International Space Station (ISS) a year on average.

Initially, NASA intended to launch the first astronauts under the commercial crew program by 2015, however, budget issues postponed it until 2017.

International Day of Human Space Flight, Cosmonautics Day in Russia

International Day of Human Space Flight, Cosmonautics Day in Russia

MOSCOW, April 12 (RIA Novosti) – Russia celebrates Cosmonautics Day every April 12. This holiday was instituted by the April 9, 1962 executive order of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet (Parliament) in honor of the first manned space flight.

On April 12, 1961, a launch vehicle orbited the Vostok spacecraft with the first cosmonaut, Soviet citizen Yuri Gagarin, on board.

After circling the Earth once, the spacecraft’s descent module landed in the USSR. The cosmonaut ejected at an altitude of several kilometers above the ground and parachuted into a field at 10.55 am Moscow Time. He landed on the bank of the Volga River near the village of Smelovka in the Ternovsky District of the Saratov Region.

The flight lasted 108 minutes, and the launch of the world’s first manned spacecraft was supervised by Sergei Korolev, Anatoly Kirillov and Leonid Voskresensky.

This history-making event paved the way for space exploration for the benefit of the entire humankind. New opportunities in space were created in 2000 when the first crew boarded the International Space Station (ISS), a joint space project involving 15 countries.

The station is tracked 24 hours a day from the Russian Federal Space Agency’s Mission Control Center in Korolev near Moscow and NASA’s Mission Control Center at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Since the start of its operation, the ISS has gradually turned into a huge laboratory in near-Earth space.

In the years following Yuri Gagarin’s first space flight, over 500 people from almost 40 countries have flown in space.

In 1962, Pilot-Cosmonaut of the USSR Gherman Titov, Yuri Gagarin’s backup man during the first space flight, voiced an initiative to institute Cosmonautics Day in the USSR. He also suggested calling on the UN, on behalf of the Soviet Government, to institute World Cosmonautics Day.

In November 1968, delegates of the 61st General Conference of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI – World Air Sports Federation) decided to celebrate World Day of Aviation and Astronautics every April 12. The celebration of this day was confirmed by the April 30, 1969 decision of the FAI Council, made at the recommendation of the Air Sports Federation of the USSR.

In the Russian Federation, Cosmonautics Day was instituted as a memorable date by Article 1.1 of the March 13, 1995 Federal Law On the Days of Military Glory and Memorable Dates in Russia.

On Cosmonautics Day, all employees of the Russian aerospace industry, including designers, scientists, engineers, workers and pilot-cosmonauts, space equipment testers, mission control center personnel, experts of the command and measuring complex, those receiving, processing and storing incoming spacecraft and orbital station data, are congratulated and honored.

On April 7, 2011, acting on the initiative of Russia, the UN General Assembly proclaimed April 12 International Day of Human Space Flight. This decision coincided with the 50th anniversary of the first step in space exploration, namely, the trailblazing flight of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.

This resolution was co-authored by over 60 UN member-countries.

The UN General Assembly voiced its deep conviction regarding the common interest of humankind in promoting the peaceful exploration and use of space that belongs to the human race, expanding the scale of this activity and exerting consistent efforts to allow all countries to use the related benefits.

Since 2001, many countries have held a Yuri’s Night event in honor of Yuri Gagarin. This event is sponsored by the Space Generation Advisory Council, the official consultant of the United Nations Programme on Space Applications. Yuri’s Night is dedicated to the following two events: the first manned space flight (April 12, 1961, USSR) and the first manned space flight in line with NASA’s Space Shuttle program (April 12, 1981).

In 2011, the year of the 50th anniversary of the first manned space flight, Yuri’s Night involved over 100,000 people in 75 countries.

NASA Extends Reliance on Russian Spacecraft Until 2018

NASA Extends Reliance on Russian Spacecraft Until 2018

MOSCOW, January 29 (RIA Novosti) – American astronauts will continue to fly to the International Space Station aboard Russian spacecraft through 2017, NASA said Monday.

“Until a US commercial vehicle is sustained, continued access to Russian crew launch, return, and rescue services is essential for planned ISS operations,” NASA said in a procurement announcement.

The agency intends to buy six more seats on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ferry American astronauts to the ISS in 2017.

NASA will also contract with the Russian space agency Roscosmos to have seats available on docked Soyuz craft through spring 2018 in the event of an emergency evacuation of the station.

The cost of the proposed deal was not disclosed, but NASA signed a contract with Roscosmos last spring to pay about $70 million per seat for launch services through early 2017.

The agency, which is funding the development of several manned spacecraft, plans to select a commercial launch provider for missions starting in 2017.

Two NASA-funded private spacecraft – SpaceX’s Dragon and Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Cygnus – have already made unmanned resupply missions to the ISS.

No American vehicle has taken astronauts into orbit since the decommissioning of NASA’s shuttle fleet in 2011. The Soyuz is one of only two operational orbital manned spacecraft in the world, the other being China’s Shenzhou.

Russia Launches British Satellite

Russia Launches British Satellite

MOSCOW, December 8 (RIA Novosti) – A Russian Proton-M carrier rocket with a British telecoms satellite blasted off from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan on Sunday, the Russian space agency Roscosmos said.

The launch occurred at 16:12 Moscow Time [12:12 GMT], as planned. The orbital unit (the Breeze M upper stage and the satellite) has separated from the rocket, a Roscosmos spokesman told RIA Novosti.

The Inmarsat-5 F1 satellite’s separation is due in some 15 hours, on Monday.

The satellite, built by Boeing Satellite Systems, provides a wide range of voice and data services through an established global network of distributors and service providers. Its expected service life is 15 years in geostationary orbit.

This was the third satellite of the Inmarsat series launched with the help of a Proton-M carrier rocket.

According to NASA, the satellite is one of three Ka-band Inmarsat-5 satellites ordered from Boeing by UK-based satellite operator Inmarsat at a price of some $1 billion. Each Inmarsat-5 satellite will carry 89 Ka-band beams that will operate in geosynchronous orbit providing flexible global coverage.

When operational, the Inmarsat-5 group will provide the operator with a comprehensive range of global mobile satellite services, including in-flight connectivity for airline passengers, mobile broadband communications for deep-sea vessels, and streaming high-resolution video, voice and data.