Space Stories: Deorbiting the ISS, Impounded Russian Rockets, and a Telescope on the Dark Side of the Moon

Image (Credit): View of Earth from the International Space Station (ISS). (NASA)

Here are some recent stories of interest.

Space News: “NASA Planning to Spend up to $1 Billion on Space Station Deorbit Module

NASA is projecting spending nearly $1 billion on a tug to deorbit the International Space Station at the end of the decade to provide redundancy for safely disposing of the station. NASA released additional details March 13 about its fiscal year 2024 budget proposal. An outline of the proposal, published by the White House March 9, requested $27.2 billion for the agency, a 7.1% increase from 2023 that roughly keeps pace with inflation.

Radio Free Europe: “Kazakhstan Impounds Property Of Russian Cosmodrome Operator In Baikonur

Kazakh authorities have impounded the property of Russia’s main operator of spacecraft launching sites in Baikonur (Baiqonyr) in the Central Asian nation’s southern region of Qyzylorda…According to the media outlet, the decision was made due to the Russian state company’s debt of 13.5 billion tenges ($29.7 million) to the Baiterek Kazakh-Russian joint venture for work related to estimating ecological damage caused by Souyz-5 rockets.

SciTechDaily: “NASA, DOE Telescope on Far Side of the Moon Will Reveal the Dark Ages of the Universe

NASA and the Department of Energy (DOE) are working together to develop a science instrument that will survive the harsh and unforgiving environment of the lunar surface at night on the far side of the Moon to attempt first-of-its-kind measurements of the Dark Ages of the Universe. The instrument, named the Lunar Surface Electromagnetics Experiment – Night (LuSEE-Night), is a collaboration between DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, the DOE Office of Science, UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory, and NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

One More Rocket Mishap, This Time in Japan

Image (Credit): Japan’s Advanced Land Observing Satellite-3, which was lost in the latest rocket failure. (JAXA)

The string of rocket failures continues. I had earlier mentioned the UK and Alaskan mishaps, while an Arianespace Vega C rocket launch from French Guiana when awry last December, and now Japan has suffered its own failure this week. Tuesday’s failed launch of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) H3 rocket is a setback for this new rocket. When the second stage of the rocket failed to ignite, the rocket self-destructed. The destruction included the rocket’s payload – the Advanced Land Observing Satellite-3.

In additional to assisting with key Japanese defense and research satellite payloads, the H-3 rocket is part of Japan’s plan to assist with cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) as well as future Artemis missions. Japan will need to figure out what happened here and get back into the game as soon as possible.

Following the recent failure of two Russian capsules at the ISS, this latest mishap demonstrates that both new and well-tested government-run space missions are subject to failure and delays. Redundancy within the commercial space industry will be critical as a backstop to these government-run programs.

Traffic Delays: SpaceX Aborts Crewed Mission to ISS

Image (Credit):The SpaceX rocket with the Crew-6 mission at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (SpaceX)

Today’s SpaceX launch of a four-man crew to the International Space Station (ISS) has been delayed. Just three minutes before the planned launch of the Crew-6 mission, designed to carry astronauts Stephen Bowen and Warren “Woody” Hoburg, cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev, and Emerati astronaut Sultan Alneyadi, SpaceX experienced  a problem with the engine igniter fluid.

The next window for the launch is this Thursday in the hopes that better weather will be available (compared to tomorrow’s weather).

The four crew members’ photos are provided below. Below you can also find a profile on each crew member:

Credit: SpaceX

Continued Traffic to the International Space Station

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Image (Credit): Soyuz M-23 capsule approaching the ISS. (NASA)

Yesterday, Russia’s M-23 capsule has safely arrived at the International Space Station (ISS). It was carrying supplies but no crew. Now the M-22 crew has a safe way to return to Earth when the are ready.

And tomorrow, SpaceX is preparing to launch a new crew to the ISS:

SpaceX and NASA are targeting no earlier than Monday, February 27 for Falcon 9’s launch of Dragon’s sixth operational human spaceflight mission (Crew-6) to the International Space Station from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The instantaneous launch window is at 1:45 a.m. ET (6:45 UTC), with a backup opportunity available on Tuesday, February 28 at 1:22 a.m. ET (6:22 UTC).

Things are starting to return to normal up there. Boring is welcome at this point.

Image (Credit): SpaceX Crew 6 mission on the launchpad. (SpaceX)

The Rescue Mission to the ISS has Started

Image (Credit): Launch of Russia’s Soyuz M-23 mission to the ISS. (NASA)

Yesterday, Russia launched the uncrewed Soyuz M-23 mission from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan (it was actually “today” in Russian time). The spacecraft will replace the damaged M-22 capsule attached to the International Space Station (ISS).  As a result, the earlier M-22 crew of Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin, and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, will return in this replacement capsule.

NASA noted that the M-22 capsule will be studied by the Russian upon its return in March:

The damaged Soyuz MS-22 is scheduled to undock from the station in late March and return to Earth for an uncrewed parachute-assisted landing in Kazakhstan, and post-flight analysis by Roscosmos.

Given recent leaks on two Russian spacecraft, let’s hope the M-23 mission goes without a hitch. Fingers crossed.

SpaceX will also be shipping a new crew up to the ISS next week, so the space traffic continues even with these hiccups.