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Space station trio returns to a pandemic planet

Two NASA astronauts and a Russian cosmonaut ended a months-long tour of duty on the International Space Station and returned to Earth to face a viral outbreak that didn’t exist when they launched.

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New trio joins space station crew; SpaceX is next

NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and two Russian cosmonauts are settling into their new home on the International Space Station after today’s launch and docking of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

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Dozens of OneWeb satellites go into orbit

Europe’s Arianespace launch consortium today used a Russian-made Soyuz rocket to send 34 satellites into a near-polar orbit for OneWeb’s broadband internet constellation, sharpening a rivalry with SpaceX’s Starlink satellite constellation.

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Space short-timer and two crewmates return home

Hazzaa Ali Almansoori of the United Arab Emirates is carried to a medical tent shortly after he and fellow spacefliers Nick Hague and Alexei Ovchinin landed in their Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan. (NASA Photo / Bill Ingalls)

Today’s landing of a Soyuz spacecraft in Kazakhstan brought one of the shortest recent stays on the International Space Station to an end, as part of a plan for one of the longest stays.

The first representative of the United Arab Emirates to fly in space, Hazzaa Ali Almansoori, was part of the returning trio, along with NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russia’s Alexey Ovchinin. All three seemed to be in good shape as they were brought out of their Soyuz and underwent an initial round of medical checks.

Almansoori spent a mere eight days on the station, under an arrangement with Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency. The other two wrapped up a 203-day tour of duty in orbit.

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Space station crew grows to 9, including Emirati

Space station crew
Nine crew members face the camera on the space station during a video conference. (NASA via YouTube)

Three more spacefliers arrived at the International Space Station today in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, increasing the orbital outpost’s population from its usual six to a crowded nine.

One of the new arrivals is Hazzaa Ali Almansoori, the first citizen of the United Arab Emirates to fly in space.

The 35-year-old fighter jet pilot was sent to the final frontier under the terms of a contract with the Russian Space Agency, and will be returning to Earth on a different Soyuz in just eight days. The cost to the UAE hasn’t been reported, but for what it’s worth, NASA has been paying the Russians more than $80 million for a ride.

The other two spacefliers are NASA astronaut Jessica Meir, another first-time flier, and veteran Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka.

Their Soyuz craft docked with the station just six hours after today’s launch from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

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Spacefliers have smooth sailing after bad trip

Soyuz launch
A Russian Soyuz rocket lifts off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, sending three spacefliers to the International Space Station. (NASA Photo / Bill Ingalls)

NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin finally made it to the International Space Station today, five months after their first trip went awry.

The two spacefliers were due to join the station’s crew last October, but as they were ascending from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, one of their Soyuz rocket’s side boosters knocked into the main core, causing a rare abort and activation of the Soyuz capsule’s escape system.

The capsule was thrown clear of the rocket, and Hague and Ovchinin made a safe but rather rocky ballistic landing. It took weeks to track down the cause of the anomaly — a bent sensor — and ensure that the anomaly wouldn’t reoccur.

It took months more to get the pair back into the flight rotation. Today’s trouble-free launch from Baikonur sent them into space in the company of a third crew member, rookie NASA astronaut Christina Koch.

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Russians report deal to put tourists in orbit by 2021

Charles Simonyi
Space Adventures facilitated two trips to the International Space Station for Seattle billionaire Charles Simonyi, in 2007 and 2009. (NASA Photo via Space Adventures)

Russia’s space agency says it’s getting ready to resume sending private passengers to the International Space Station and back, a decade after the last space tour.

A contract has been signed with Virginia-based Space Adventures to send two non-professional spacefliers into orbit for short-term space station stays by the end of 2021, Roscosmos reported today in a news release.

Space Adventures didn’t issue a statement but retweeted Roscosmos’ news.

Roscosmos said the two passengers would fly on a Soyuz spacecraft that’s currently being built, presumably with a professional Russian cosmonaut in the pilot’s seat. “The execution of all works on the creation of space technology will be carried out at the expense of the space tourists,” Roscosmos said.

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Space station trio rides slashed Soyuz back to Earth

Serena Aunon-Chancellor
NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor is carried to a medical tent shortly after she, Germany’s Alexander Gerst and Russia’s Sergey Prokopyev landed in their Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft near the town of Zhezkazgan in Kazakhstan. (NASA Photo / Bill Ingalls)

A Russian Soyuz spaceship that stirred up an international fuss over a drill hole and an air leak brought three spacefliers back to Earth from the International Space Station without a problem.

NASA’s Serena Auñón-Chancellor, Germany’s Alexander Gerst and Russia’s Sergey Prokopyev touched down in the snowy steppes of Kazakhstan at 11:02 a.m. local time Dec. 20 (9:02 p.m. PT Dec. 19), leaving three crewmates on the orbital outpost.

The homeward-bound trio rode the same Soyuz they took up to the station in June. It’s the same Soyuz that experienced an air leak in August, causing consternation in space as well as back down on Earth.

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Spacewalkers slash away at suspect Soyuz

Soyuz slashing
Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko uses a cutting tool to open up the Soyuz spacecraft’s external cover, at bottom, while crewmate Sergey Prokopyev looks on. (NASA TV via YouTube)

During an extraordinary spacewalk, two Russian cosmonauts used sharp objects today to cut away layers of protective insulation on a Soyuz capsule and take samples of sealant plugging up a mysterious drill hole.

The hole, measuring just a tenth of an inch wide, was the source of an alarming air leak detected on the International Space Station in August. Soon after discovering the breach, the station’s crew managed to plug the hole in the Soyuz’s habitation module with epoxy and gauze, and the Soyuz has since been judged safe for next week’s return trip to Earth.

Three returning spacefliers will take their seats in a separate area of the Soyuz spacecraft, the descent module, and the habitation module will be jettisoned as usual before atmospheric re-entry.

Russian mission planners scheduled today’s spacewalk to gather evidence from the Soyuz’s exterior, in order to track down the cause of the breach and to determine the best way to make such repairs in the future.

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Newly arrived space station trio is ‘having a blast’

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A Russian Soyuz rocket rises from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, carrying three spacefliers into orbit. (NASA TV via YouTube)

A Russian Soyuz rocket sent three spacefliers to the International Space Station today, marking a return to normal operations after a hardware problem spoiled a similar flight in October.

NASA’s Anne McClain, Canada’s David Saint-Jacques and Russia’s Oleg Kononenko lifted off from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan into sunset skies as scheduled at 5:31 p.m. local time (3:31 a.m. PT). Gary Jordan, a launch commentator for NASA, hailed a “textbook launch and insertion into orbit.”

The station’s three current crew members could watch the launch from high above. “Looking forward to having a full crew of 6 up here again, at least for a few weeks,” German astronaut Alexander Gerst, the station’s current commander, said in a tweet.

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