Posts Tagged ‘Russian Federal Space Agency’

26 April, 2011

When the Space Shuttle retires as scheduled in June, NASA will be dependent on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS). Based on a recent $753 million contract NASA awarded to the Russian Federal Space Agency, these outsourced services cost U.S. taxpayers roughly $63 million per seat.

It’s doubtless a hefty price tag, but NASA lacks U.S.-based alternatives—so far, anyway. American businesses are, nonetheless, vying for agency funds with which to advance U.S.-built spacecraft and related technologies. Such a contract was just announced; yet, the contract amount is but 10 percent of that awarded to Russia’s space agency.

Soyuz TMA-7 Spacecraft

Soyuz TMA-7 Spacecraft

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) won a $75 million, Congressionally mandated award from NASA as part of the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) initiative started in 2009. NASA’s CCDev awards are intended to stimulate efforts within the private sector, encouraging the development, maturation, and demonstration of human spaceflight technologies and capabilities.

Under this specific contract award, SpaceX will develop a launch escape system for its Dragon, enabling the company’s spacecraft to carry astronauts. Considered by many to be the Space Shuttle’s successor, Dragon is designed to carry seven astronauts to the space station, the cost of which would be $20 million a seat, reveals a spokesperson.

“This award will accelerate our efforts to develop the next-generation rockets and spacecraft for human transportation,” explains Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO and chief designer. “With NASA’s support, SpaceX will be ready to fly its first manned mission in 2014.”

This geek, dedicated to fostering innovation in the U.S., calls out to his brethren: engineers, computer scientists, chemists, mathematicians, physicists, and systems integrators and systems architects; U.S.-based companies such as SpaceX in Texas, Virgin Galactic in New Mexico, and Boeing in the Northwest; technology companies, such as Mentor Graphics and others, offering tools for designing and developing radiation-hardened tools and spacecraft avionics. Let’s bring that nearly $1 billion dollars back to the U.S. Let’s fly Americans to space aboard private spacecraft conceived, designed, and developed right here in the U.S.

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22 April, 2011

Decades ago, the United States and the Soviet Union were in competition, battling for superiority in the space race and demonstrating scientific prowess, technological capabilities, and power. Now fodder for the history books, the space race bred myriad advancements through competition; today, in a time of budget cuts, the U.S. is paying Russia for help when it comes to human spaceflight.

NASA officials have signed a $753 million modification to its current International Space Station (ISS) contract with the Russian Federal Space Agency for crew transportation, rescue, and related services from 2014 through June 2016. The firm fixed price modification calls for Soyuz support, including all necessary training and preparation for launch, flight operations, landing, and crew rescue of long-duration missions for 12 individual space station crew members.

Russian Soyuz launch vehicle

Russian Soyuz launch vehicle

Interestingly, the Soyuz was originally built in the 1960s (in the heat of the space race) as part of the Soviet Manned Lunar Program (although its first mission was unmanned).

NASA engineers are working to develop an American-made commercial capability for crew transportation and rescue services to the station following this year’s retirement of the space shuttle fleet. The goal is to become less dependent, if at all reliant, on foreign support; to this end, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden is stressing the importance of and calling for American-made alternatives.

“The president’s 2012 budget request boosts funding for our partnership with the commercial space industry and prioritizes our efforts to ensure that American astronauts and the cargo they need are transported by American companies rather than continuing to outsource this work to foreign governments,” Bolden says. “This new approach in getting our crews and cargo into orbit will create good jobs and expand opportunities for our American economy. If we are to win the future and out build our competitors, it’s essential that we make this program a success.”

This geek hopes the agency puts their money where their mouth is, and invests as significantly (if not more so) in U.S.-based firms, jobs, and R&D.

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