Flight_International 28Jan2020

(Jacob Rumans) #1


20 | Flight International | 28 January-3 February 2020 flightglobal.com

replace or update its reliable
but 1960s-era Soyuz, the question
for the 2020s is: where is the
USA  going and who is along for
the ride?
Work started on NASA’s Com-
mercial Crew programme in
2010, when it chose to outsource
transport rather than develop its
own post-Shuttle equipment.
Contracts to fly astronauts were
awarded to Boeing and SpaceX
in 2014. Delays scuppered hope
of flying from 2017, and last year
both contractors suffered further
setbacks; SpaceX lost a Crew
Dragon capsule to a launchpad
fire – later traced to fuel valves
and plumbing – while Boeing’s
uncrewed December test flight
was only a partial success, failing
to reach the ISS after a timer
problem prevented thrusters
from pushing the Starliner cap-
sule to a high enough orbit.
Early indications are the flight
was otherwise as planned, in-
cluding the first-ever dry ground
landing by a US space capsule,
and it remains to be determined
whether Boeing will have to fly
again to achieve certification.
SpaceX, meanwhile, opened
2020 with a spectacularly fiery
and apparently successful flight
from Cape Canaveral to an Atlan-
tic splashdown to prove its cap-
sule’s escape rockets can lift it
clear of a failing booster.


or crewed spaceflight, expect
a big year in 2020. The USA
plans to restore its independent
ability to launch astronauts, with
the service entry of low-Earth
orbit crew launch systems by
Boeing and SpaceX. And, going
way beyond the International
Space Station, by year-end NASA
intends to make the maiden flight
of its Space Launch System (SLS)
rocket with Orion crew capsule,
an ensemble designed to reach
the Moon.
Together, these capabilities
promise to deliver a psycho-
logical boost for a nation that has,
since it “won” the 1960s space
race, invested a substantial share
of its self-esteem in being master
of the cosmos.
But realising the Commercial
Crew Earth-orbit scheme will also
upset a balance of terrestrial
power that has prevailed for near-
ly a decade. The last time human
crew flew in a US vehicle was
2011, when the inspiring but fa-
tally flawed Space Shuttle was re-
tired. Since then, US, Canadian,
European and Japanese missions
to the ISS have started from Bai-
konur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan
–  Yuri Gagarin’s launch site –
aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
What’s more, since the final Apol-
lo mission, in 1972, nobody has
had the hardware to push a crew
beyond low-Earth orbit; SLS-Ori-
on will restore America’s sole su-
premacy in deep space.

Spaceflight has changed dramati-
cally since the 1960s and 1970s.
Where Apollo mirrored the exis-
tential, fiercely nationalistic Cold
War stand-off, the ISS has been a
successful partnership built on
two anchor players – the Russia
and USA – with essential and on-
going contributions from Canada,
Europe and Japan. But with the
imminent end of the Russian
mono poly on transport, and no
visible signs of Russian work on a
new generation of spacecraft to

At least one of the US cap-
sules, then, may be ready to fly
crew within months. For the fore-
seeable future, Crew Dragon,
Starliner and Soyuz will share
ISS ride duties, and to maintain
operations NASA is understood
to be considering buying more
Soyuz seats.

But David Parker, the European
Space Agency’s director of human
and robotic exploration, says the
next ESA astronauts to go to the
ISS may fly from the USA rather
than Russia. Speaking to Flight-
Global on the sidelines of ESA di-
rector general Jan Woer ner’s an-
nual January press briefing in
Paris, Parker had just returned
from the USA – where he had
“positive” discussions with
NASA counterpart Doug Loverro
and also visited ESA’s Danish
astronaut, Andreas Mogensen.
Parker notes that Mogensen

has been seconded to NASA’s as-
tronaut office in Houston and the
assumption is that ESA will train
its astronauts to fly to the ISS on
one of the new US capsules.

Critically, Soyuz seats are bought
by the Americans and shared
with non-Russian ISS partners on
a barter basis, which has always
been the principal mechanism
for sharing ISS projects.
Europe is in the strong position
of providing a critical-path com-
ponent of the SLS-Orion system
that will be the transport for
NASA’s Artemis return-to-the-
Moon programme. While astro-
nauts will ride in the Lockheed
Martin-built Orion capsule, the
service module – providing pro-
pulsion, life support and avionics

  • comes from ESA.
    Built by Airbus in Bremen,
    Germany, and developed from its
    robotic ISS resupply ship, the
    first European Service Module
    (ESM) is now in the USA for inte-
    gration and testing before the
    launch, either at the end of 2020
    or early 2021, of an uncrewed
    SLS-Orion proving mission
    around the Moon. A second ESM
    is under construction, contract
    negotiations are under way for a
    third and four, five and six are
    also under discussion.
    In short, deep-space crewed
    missions will not happen with-
    out Europe and ESA, and for the
    Moon there is momentum.
    A  crewed Artemis mission will
    follow the proving flight, and the
    Donald Trump White House has
    charged NASA with putting
    American boots – including a
    pair worn by a woman – back on
    the Moon by 2024. Parker adds
    that while the details depend on
    “barter” agreements, he antici-
    pates a European astronaut riding
    Orion to the so-called Gateway
    space station that will serve as
    the jumping-off point for lunar
    sorties in 2025, and joining a mis-
    sion to the surface in 2030. ■


Now back to the Moon, via Germany

As NASA opens new era of Earth-orbit and deep space flight capability, European partners get ready for the ride


Artemis 1 flight’s main
rocket stage is readied
ahead of testing

The White House has

charged NASA with

putting American boots

  • including a pair worn

by a woman – back on

the Moon by 2024

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