Progress MS-02 launches to ISS

The Russian Progress MS-02 spacecraft launched successfully today beginning a two day journey to dock with the International Space Station.

Roscosmos elected to do the two day journey to allow time to fully test all the upgraded systems on the newer MS version of the vehicle.  The first Soyuz MS crewed mission is due to launch in June and validation of the systems is required before that can occur.

This is the second of three cargo vehicles scheduled to travel to the station in less than a month.

ISS One Year Mission begins

The first one year mission on the International Space Station begun this afternoon with the launch of the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

Following a smooth countdown the three crew members Gennady Padalka, Mikhail Korniyenko of the Russia Federal Space Agency and Scott Kelly of NASA lifted off at 3:42 p.m. EDT. Once in orbit the spacecraft deployed its solar arrays and antennas before performed the first of several burns to take it to the space station later today.

15156689690_305310f36d_kUnlike previous missions to the ISS Mikhail Korniyenko and Scott Kelly will not be returning to Earth aboard the TMA-16M vehicle but will instead spend a year on board the station and eventually return in March 2016 aboard the TMA-18M vehicle. During their time aboard the station the crew members will be subject to a number of tests to determine the long-term effects of working in space and while this has been done before aboard the MIR space station it is the first time aboard the ISS. However the experiments are not limited just to the two in space, Scott’s identical twin brother Mark Kelly a former NASA Astronaut will also be under going tests during the same time period. This will allow NASA a unique opportunity to study the differences between being on Earth and on ISS.

While a lot of focus for this mission has been on Korniyenko and Kelly, we shouldn’t forget that Padalka will be setting a record while on orbit, the most time ever spent in space.  The record of 803d 9h 39m, which is currently held by Russian Sergei Krikalev, will be passed by Padalka on 5th July this year.

While this isn’t the first time a human has spent a year in space, it has been 25 years since it was last done and technology has changed a lot since then allowing more in depth studies to be performed that were not possible then.

Below are screen grabs of the launch, we will post a follow up article this evening after the docking and hatch opening.

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Is US Manned Space Program falling behind?

Since the Space Shuttle completed it’s last flight the US has had to rely on Russia to launch manned missions to the International Space Station, and this will continue for at least two more years.

There are currently two countries with the ability to launch manned missions Russia and China, there are five others US, ESA, India, Iran and Japan working on programs.

India recently launched their Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mk III vehicle, the most powerful so far, which carried the Crew Module Atmospheric Re-entry Experiment (CARE) vehicle which is the first stage of their manned program.

The status of the other programs is unknown at this point with the plans calling for delivery in the 2020’s.

So what does this mean for the US Manned program?

At present there are four active programs for Orbital Manned Spaceflight in the US those are Boeing’s CST-100, NASA’s Orion, SNC’s Dream Chaser and SpaceX’s Dragon V2. Of these three are being funded by NASA and the four has previously been funded and is currently disputing the award to the other competitors.

Before we decide if the US is falling behind lets take a look at each program.

Boeing’s CST-100
The CST-100 like the Dragon V2 and Orion spacecraft is based on a capsule design which will return to Earth and land under parachutes.

The CST-100 will be launched on an Atlas V rocket supplied by ULA.

NASA’s Orion
Orion is designed to travel beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO), while it could operate in LEO there really isn’t much point as the commercial companies will have this ability before Orion’s next flight.  The first test flight of Orion was completed successfully earlier this month.

The Orion spacecraft will be launched on NASA’s Space Launch System rocket which is due to debut in 2018.

SNC’s Dream Chaser
Unlike the other’s Dream Chaser is a lifting body spacecraft designed to land automatically on conventional runways.

Dream Chaser will be launched by an Atlas V but a smaller version is also being designed that could launch on Stratolaunch.

SpaceX’s Dragon V2
The Dragon V2 spacecraft is the crewed version of the currently operating Dragon spacecraft that has supplied the space station five times. This vehicle will include the ability to automatically dock with the station and will use a propulsive landing to allow it to precisely control where it lands.

Dragon V2 will be launched on the Falcon 9 v1.1 as the current Dragon does.

Conclusion

Far from falling behind the rest of the world we truly believe that the US is in a far stronger position for the future. Having four active manned programs three of which are commercially owed will help to keep costs lower and will ensure that the US has access to space even if one system suffers a failure.