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The latest news on soyuz from Business Insider
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    The Soyuz TMA-17M spacecraft carrying the International Space Station (ISS) crew of Kjell Lindgren of the U.S., Oleg Kononenko of Russia and Kimiya Yui of Japan leaves a trail across the sky on this long exposure picture, as it blasts off at the Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, July 23, 2015  REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla (Reuters) - A Russian Soyuz capsule carrying three new crew for the International Space Station arrived at the orbital outpost on Wednesday after a two-month launch delay, a NASA TV broadcast showed.

    Veteran Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and rookie astronauts Kjell Lindgren with NASA and Japan's Kimiya Yui blasted off aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket at 5:02 p.m. from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

    They arrived less than six hours later to begin a five-month mission aboard the station, a $100-billion laboratory that flies about 250 miles (400 km) above Earth.

    The trio had been set to fly in May, but Russia delayed the mission after a botched launch of a similar Soyuz rocket on April 28. That accident stranded a Progress cargo ship in an orbit too low to reach the station.

    Nine days later, the capsule, loaded with three tons of equipment and supplies, fell back into Earth's atmosphere and was incinerated.

    Accident investigators determined that the Progress failed to separate properly from the Soyuz rocket's third-stage engine. The Soyuz returned to flight on July 3, successfully launching a replacement load of cargo to the station.

    "We're confident in the rocket ... we're all very excited to launch," Lindgren, 42, told a pre-launch news conference.

    Two U.S. companies that fly cargo to the station under contract with the U.S. space agency also lost capsules after recent failed launches. Privately owned SpaceX and Orbital ATK remain grounded following accidents last month and in October 2014, respectively.

    A fourth station resupply line is operated by Japan, which is scheduled to fly again in August."It's certainly no fun to see several of the cargo vehicles undergo mishaps," Lindgren said. "It underscores the difficulty of this industry and ... how unforgiving the space environment is."

    The arrival of Lindgren, Kononenko, 51, and Yui, 45, returns the space station to a full six-member crew for the first time in six weeks.

    "We look forward to seeing them," U.S. station flight engineer Scott Kelly said during an inflight interview on Tuesday.

    Kelly and Russia's Mikhail Kornienko are participating in the station's first year-long mission. Also aboard is veteran cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, the current station commander.

    The Soyuz capsule arrived on Wednesday with just one pair of its power-producing solar arrays deployed. NASA mission commentator Kyle Herring said the glitch had no impact on the capsule’s flight and docking.

    (Editing by Tom Brown and Clarence Fernandez)

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    soyuzms01 crew 879x485

    Tonight at 9:36 pm ET, a Russian rocket will launch three astronauts to the International Space Station. The rocket, an upgraded Soyuz rocket, will launch out of Kazakhstan.

    The launch was originally scheduled for spring, but was set back due to a potential issue with the spacecraft’s software.

    The crew includes astronauts from three different space agencies: NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, veteran Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin, and former Japanese airline pilot Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

    Rubins, who has a Ph.D in cancer biology, is the first female astronaut the ISS has seen since 2015. Once there, she will work on scientific research, becoming the first person to sequence DNA in space.

    The astronauts will be riding in an upgraded version of Russia's Soyuz rocket. The rocket has new redundant thrusters and electrical motors for the vehicle’s docking probe, NASA said. It also has extra photovoltaic cells on its solar panels and additional shielding against micrometeoroid debris. To top it off, the Soyuz has a new video transmitter, updated communications capabilities, and a better satellite navigation system.

    Although Soyuz flights to the ISS usually take just six hours, this trip will take about two days — the trio isn’t expected to arrive at the space station until shortly after midnight on Saturday. This extra time will allow the crew to test out some of the upgrades made to the Soyuz rocket.

    The spacecraft will complete 34 orbits around Earth before docking at the ISS at 12:12 am ET. Two hours after docking, the hatch will open and the astronauts will join NASA astronaut Jeff Williams and Russian cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin. They are expected to stay on board until October.

    You can watch the launch live on NASA TV or below:

    SEE ALSO: This is why Scott Kelly's 'year in space' wasn't actually a full year

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    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Here's The Play-By-Play Of A Soyuz Capsule Docking At The International Space Station This Morning


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    Tonight at 9:36 pm ET, a Russian rocket launched three astronauts to the International Space Station. The rocket, an upgraded Soyuz rocket, launched out of Kazakhstan.

    The launch was originally scheduled for spring, but was set back due to a potential issue with the spacecraft’s software.

    The crew includes astronauts from three different space agencies: NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, veteran Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin, and former Japanese airline pilot Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

    According to NASA, this flight is a "reflection of the spirit of international cooperation that brought the world's most complex spacecraft together."

    Rubins, who has a Ph.D in cancer biology, is the first female astronaut the ISS has seen since 2015. Once there, she will work on scientific research, becoming the first person to sequence DNA in space.

    The astronauts will be riding in an upgraded version of Russia's Soyuz rocket. The rocket has new redundant thrusters and electrical motors for the vehicle’s docking probe, NASA said. It also has extra photovoltaic cells on its solar panels and additional shielding against micrometeoroid debris. To top it off, the Soyuz has a new video transmitter, updated communications capabilities, and a better satellite navigation system.

    The upgrades were made to increase the reliability of the spacecraft and enhance its performance and technical specifications.

    Although Soyuz flights to the ISS usually take just six hours, this trip will take about two days — the trio isn’t expected to arrive at the space station until shortly after midnight on Saturday. This extra time will allow the crew to test out some of the upgrades made to the Soyuz rocket.

    The spacecraft will complete 34 orbits around Earth before docking at the ISS at 12:12 am ET. Two hours after docking, the hatch will open and the astronauts will join NASA astronaut Jeff Williams and Russian cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin. They are expected to stay on board until October.

    SEE ALSO: A Russian rocket will launch 3 astronauts into space tonight — here’s how to watch live

    DON'T MISS: Watch how bizarrely water and fire behave in space

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Here's The Play-By-Play Of A Soyuz Capsule Docking At The International Space Station This Morning


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    Soyuz MS-01 NASA

    NASA is in quite a financial pickle with the Russians.

    When the agency retired its space shuttle program in 2011, it was banking on commercial carriers — ultimately SpaceX and Boeing— to design, build, and test proven systems to launch its astronauts into space by 2015.

    But those plans have been waylaid by 3 years, according to a buck-stopping audit by NASA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016.

    This leaves the agency with one option for sending astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) 220 miles above Earth: a Russian spacecraft called the Soyuz.

    And Russia is taking full advantage of its temporary monopoly.

    Roscosmos, Russia's space agency, used to charge NASA as little as $21.8 million per seat in 2008 (when the space shuttle was still around).

    By 2018, however, it intends to charge NASA $81 million per seat by 2018 — a cost increase of 372% over 10 years:

    Chart showing how much Russia is charging NASA per seat for launching US astronauts.

    The latest NASA OIG audit — coincidentally released the morning that SpaceX's uncrewed Falcon 9 rocket exploded on a launch pad during a routine test (no one was harmed, but Facebook's first satellite was destroyed) — follows up on a report it released in November 2013.

    The new audit finds that the delays by SpaceX and Boeing is going to cost NASA dearly in payments to Roscosmos.

    "Had the Agency met its original goal of securing commercial crew transportation by calendar year 2015, NASA could have avoided paying Russia close to $1 billion for Soyuz seats in 2017 and 2018, even factoring in the purchase of some seats in 2016 to cover the expected transition period," the OIG report states.

    The chart below factors in the price of a seat and the number of astronauts that NASA plans to launch (about six per year), to show how much NASA has paid Russia and could end up paying. The total cost over 12 years is more than $3.36 billion.

    Assuming NASA's budget remains roughly $18.5 billion a year, that means about 3% of the agency's funding could be diverted to Russia in 2018:

    Chart showing how much Russia is charging NASA for launching US astronauts.

    A presentation given by a NASA official in May 2016 estimates the cost of each seat aboard SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft and Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft will be $58 million.

    The audit makes clear that any other hiccups in the NASA's commercial crew program, which could earn Boeing and SpaceX up to $4.2 billion and $2.6 billion (respectively) for their services, will be costly.

    spacex dragon spacecraft GettyImages 494548549"Given the delays in initiating a U.S. capacity to transport crew to the ISS, NASA has extended its contract with the Russian Space Agency for astronaut transportation through 2018 at an additional cost of $490 million," the report stated. "If the Commercial Crew Program experiences additional delays, NASA may need to buy additional seats from Russia to ensure a continued U.S. presence on the ISS."

    A response to the OIG findings in the report, penned by William Gerstenmaier — NASA's associate administrator for human exploration — agreed with the report's overall findings. Yet Gerstenmaier emphasized the importance of making sure commercial spacecraft are safe to fly.

    "Excessive focus on timeliness and schedule can result in reducing the overall safety of the system," Gerstenmaier wrote. "Timeliness must not be over stressed[.]"

    Business Insider contacted Boeing and SpaceX about the new OIG report. Although SpaceX did not immediately respond, Boeing issued the following statement to Business Insider:

    "We continue to work toward achieving certification and providing safe crew transportation services to and from the International Space Station with the first launch (orbital flight test) expected in 2017. As in any development program, issues can stress the schedule and we are working shoulder-to-shoulder with NASA to overcome them. Boeing has been a partner with NASA on the Starliner system since 2010 and we’ve made significant progress on the maturity of our design."

    We also asked representatives at SpaceX if the company's Sept. 1 Falcon 9 explosion could affect the company's rocket launch schedule and human spaceflight plans, and they told us by email:

    "[O]ur number one priority is to safely and reliably return to flight for our customers, as well as to take all the necessary steps to ensure the highest possible levels of safety for future crewed missions with the Falcon 9. We will carefully and thoroughly investigate and address this issue."

    A NASA spokesperson told Business Insider by email (our emphasis added in bold):

    "NASA remains confident in our commercial partners and in the goals of the Commercial Crew Program to take astronauts to and from low-Earth orbit. It is too early to know whether Thursday's incident will impact their development schedules. Spacecraft and launch vehicles designed for the Commercial Crew Program must meet NASA's stringent safety criteria before being certified to launch crews into space. Successfully meeting those requirements has always taken precedence over schedule."

    SEE ALSO: Here's how much money it actually costs to launch stuff into space

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    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Watch the dramatic moment SpaceX rocket explodes


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    soyuz russia roscosmos spaceship nasa

    Tonight three people who have spent 172 days in orbit above the Earth will attempt to return home.

    But they won't be riding in a US spacecraft.

    NASA retired its space shuttle fleet in 2011. Meanwhile, commercial carriers like SpaceX and Boeing are still building, testing, and certifying their spaceships, respectively called Dragon and CST-100 Starliner.

    Today only one spaceship can launch people more than 200 miles above Earth, drop them off at the International Space Station (ISS), and fly them back: a Russian spacecraft called the Soyuz, which first launched in 1966 and means "union" in Russian.

    Though Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, has upgraded the three-module Soyuz design several times over the decades, it has hardly changed its core layout.

    What it charges other space agencies per seat, however, has changed dramatically in recent years.

    Below is a chart that shows what Russia has historically charged NASA per Soyuz spot since 2006, plus what it plans to charge in the near future, according to a new report that NASA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) released on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016:

    Chart showing how much Russia is charging NASA per seat for launching US astronauts.

    The cheapest Soyuz seats NASA ever paid for were $21.8 million in 2007 and 2008.

    As soon as the space agency permanently grounded its space shuttles, though, Russia sharply raised the cost per seat. And it shows no signs of stopping while NASA, JAXA, and the European Space Agency wait for other options.

    By 2018, NASA and its partners will have to pay roughly $81 million per person to ride a Soyuz to the ISS and back again — a cost increase of 372% in 10 years. (The total cost to NASA over 12 years will be about $3.37 billion.)

    That contrasts to the $58 million NASA expects to pay per seat aboard SpaceX's and Boeing's ships, or roughly $214 million per space shuttle passenger. (Both numbers account for total lifetime costs of each spacecraft's development.)

    What will $81 million get you on a Soyuz?

    One of the safest trips to space, yet cramped between avionics and bags of cargo — for anywhere from 6 hours to 2 days per leg of the journey:

    soyuz astronauts cosmonauts russia roscosmos spaceship esa nasa

    Companies like Space Adventures have also purchased Soyuz seats in the past, sending mega-millionaires like videogame developer Richard Garriott up to the ISS.

    But the space outfitter's next mission is far more ambitious: It intends to recreate the Apollo 8 mission of 1968 and launch a lucky passenger (and two cosmonaut accomplices) around the moon.

    At $150 million per seat per lunar trip, it's starting to sound like a bargain.

    SEE ALSO: Here's how much money it actually costs to launch stuff into space

    DON'T MISS: 25 silly myths about Earth, space, and physics that drive me crazy

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Watch the dramatic moment SpaceX rocket explodes


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    Soyuz TMA 19M rocket launch nasa

    NASA, in dealing with Russia's monopoly on human spaceflight, is hoping Boeing can help — that is, by buying tickets the company owns for rides aboard Russian rockets.

    When NASA retired its last space shuttle in July 2011, it expected commercial carriers like SpaceX and Boeing to launch its astronauts into space by 2015.

    But both companies hit snags with the development of their rockets and spaceships, causing the first planned launches to slip to 2018, according to a September 2016 audit by NASA's Office of Inspector General (OIG).

    This left NASA with one option for getting astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) for the next 3 years: a Russian spacecraft called the Soyuz.

    NASA is no stranger to buying Soyuz seats — it has done so for more than a decade — but Russia has taken full advantage of its temporary monopoly to charge ever-more-exorbitant sums for them. And now the space agency may need more than it originally expected.

    As Eric Berger reported Wednesday at Ars Technica, NASA issued a new solicitation on January 17 to buy two more Soyuz seats from Boeing, plus "an option to acquire crew transportation from Boeing for three crewmembers on the Soyuz in 2019." In other words: NASA may end up buying five tickets aboard the Soyuz from Boeing.

    If that sounds a little convoluted, particularly since Boeing's delays helped put NASA in this pickle in the first place, welcome to the current state of human spaceflight industry.

    As Berger notes at Ars Technica, RSC Energia — the Russian entity that makes and launches Soyuz rockets and spacecraft — recently settled a $320 million lawsuit with Boeing. Part of Boeing's settlement package includes five Soyuz seats and, according to NASA's recent solicitation, one is scheduled for 2017, another for 2018, and three for 2019.

    NASA wants those tickets to ensure it's making good on its roughly $75 billion investment in the ISS, set to disband in 2024, by filling it up with as many crewmembers as possible.

    What might NASA pay Boeing for each of its Soyuz tickets?

    A NASA representative declined to provide Business Insider with an estimate, but noted "prices will be finalized during contract negotiations" and that the space agency "will ensure it receives a fair and reasonable price for the transportation services from Boeing before a contract is awarded."

    Representatives from Boeing also wouldn't give specific numbers, but told Business Insider in an email that "the pricing is attractive" and that "we would not charge NASA more than what they would pay Roscosmos [Russia's space agency] if they were purchasing these seats directly."

    If what Roscosmos charges is any guide, however, Boeing's Soyuz seats could still cost NASA dearly.

    When NASA still had the space shuttle in 2008, Roscosmos charged it as little as $21.8 million per Soyuz seat. By 2018, however, it intends to charge NASA $81 million per seat — an increase of 372% over 10 years:

    Chart showing how much Russia is charging NASA per seat for launching US astronauts.

    That's according to NASA OIG's September 2016 audit data.

    The chart below, also based on the report, factors in the price of a seat and the number of astronauts that NASA plans to launch (about six per year) to show how much NASA has paid Russia and could end up paying for Soyuz seats.

    The total cost over 12 years is more than $3.36 billion — and that's not including the possible purchase of Boeing's three Soyuz seats for 2019.

    Assuming NASA's budget remains roughly $18.5 billion a year, that means about 3% of the agency's funding could be diverted to Russia in 2018:

    Chart showing how much Russia is charging NASA for launching US astronauts.

    A presentation given by a NASA official in May 2016 estimates the cost of each seat aboard SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft and Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft will be $58 million.

    The Sept. 2016 audit made clear that any other hiccups in the NASA's commercial crew program, which could earn Boeing and SpaceX up to $4.2 billion and $2.6 billion (respectively) for their services, will be costly.

    "Given the delays in initiating a U.S. capacity to transport crew to the ISS, NASA has extended its contract with the Russian Space Agency for astronaut transportation through 2018 at an additional cost of $490 million," the report stated. "If the Commercial Crew Program experiences additional delays, NASA may need to buy additional seats from Russia to ensure a continued U.S. presence on the ISS."

    Indeed, that looks to be the way things are headed now.

    This article was updated to include new information provided after its original publication.

    SEE ALSO: Here's how much money it actually costs to launch stuff into space

    DON'T MISS: 25 silly myths about Earth, space, and physics that drive me crazy

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Watch the dramatic moment SpaceX rocket explodes


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    dove micro satellite nanosat planet labs

    So far, humanity has launched more than 4,000 satellites into orbit above Earth.

    That may seem like a lot, but the party is just getting started.

    On July 14, a company called Planet Labs launched four dozen tiny satellites into orbit — all at once — and recorded part of the feat from space using a similar tiny satellite.

    "For years, we've been talking about getting that perfect shot from space of a rocket mid-flight," Vincent Beukelaers, an aerospace engineer at Planet Labs, wrote in a blog post. "[A]s our on-orbit fleet has grown in size, the odds of one of our satellites being in the right position to image these rocket launches have only increased. Last week, the orbits aligned."

    The feat was possible because the cost of launching payloads is shrinking, thanks in part to companies like SpaceX (which hopes to launch 4,425 satellites to provide global high-speed internet).

    Advances in electronics have also shrunk the payloads themselves. Pretty soon, satellites small enough to pick up in one hand — often called nanosats or microsatellites — will outnumber the typical car- or bus-sized variety in space.

    Here's how Planet Labs photographed its own launch from space.

    The company booked a flight through Roscosmos, Russia's space agency, to launch a "flock" of 48 new satellites using a Soyuz rocket. On July 14, one of Planet Labs' satellites was flying near the mission's Baikonur Cosmodrome launch site in Kazakhstan.

    At the moment of launch, the company turned the satellite askew to follow and photograph the rocket as it flew toward space. This series of photos, which are stitched together and sped up, is the result:


    The clip shows the Soyuz rocket blasting off the launch pad and climbing toward space. (The moment the satellites were dropped off in orbit wasn't recorded because that viewing angle wasn't possible.)

    Roscosmos also recorded its rocket launch from the ground. Here's what that looked like:


    Planet Labs now has 190 nanosats in orbit. The company's ultimate goal is to deploy a fleet of its low-cost "Dove" nanosatellites to provide continuous daily image coverage of the Earth's surface.

    With such imagery, it becomes more possible to track activities of interest to companies, governments, and individuals, like this:


    These example images, recorded by Planet Labs' fleet, show Apple constructing its spaceship campus in California.

    SEE ALSO: How the used rockets of billionaires may save humanity from doom

    DON'T MISS: Elon Musk's plan to blanket Earth in high-speed internet may face a big threat: China

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    NOW WATCH: New satellite images show inside China’s ghost cities


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    nasa astronaut selfie international space station iss earth 11572307115_1194957269_o

    • A House subcommittee held a hearing on Wednesday on NASA's program to build new spaceships to reach the International Space Station.
    • Boeing and SpaceX, the two contractors in the program, are experiencing delays due to NASA's stringent safety requirements.
    • The only means of reaching the ISS, Russia's Soyuz spacecraft, may not be able to fly astronauts after 2019.
    • That could mean astronauts will soon have no way to get to and from NASA's $100 billion investment in the sky.


    NASA has spent the better part of 20 years and $100 billion working on the International Space Station.

    But in a couple of years, astronauts may have no way to get to and from the US space agency's football-field-size laboratory in the sky, according to testimonies from government officials on Wednesday.

    The problem is a lack of available spaceships, both foreign and domestic.

    NASA contracted Boeing and SpaceX to build a safer and more cost-effective replacement for its space shuttle, which was retired in July 2011. The original contracts called for certification and regular flights with astronauts by the end of 2017, but that didn't happen.

    soyuz russia roscosmos spaceship nasa

    To fill the gap while the companies developed their spaceships, NASA purchased seats aboard Russia's Soyuz spacecraft.

    Delays by Boeing and SpaceX prompted the space agency to purchase more seats — at exorbitant prices— but it appears even that option will soon expire.

    "Soyuz capability is available through the fall of 2019," William Gerstenmaier, the head of NASA's human exploration and operations directorate, said during a hearing with a subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

    He added: "The manufacturing time of a Soyuz of approximately three years will not allow additional Soyuz to be manufactured."

    That means that if by the end of 2019 Boeing can't certify its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, or SpaceX its Crew Dragon capsule, astronauts may have no way to reach the ISS for an indeterminate amount of time.

    The stakes are immense. The ISS, now complete, is in the prime of its operation and best equipped to study spaceflight's effects on the human body, ideally to help crews survive coming missions to the moon, Mars, and anywhere else.

    Sky-high optimism?

    international space station iss nasa

    In 2010, about a year before it retired the space shuttle, NASA began the Commercial Crew Program: a competition to build new spaceships and prove their safety by 2017.

    Boeing and SpaceX won the multistage competition and have so far received $4.82 billion and $3.14 billion in taxpayer money to fund their work.

    NASA, working with other government agencies and Congress, decided Boeing and SpaceX's spacecraft must have less than a 1-in-200 chance of killing a crew in an accident.

    "Both contractor systems must meet a standard for crew safety that is much higher than that for the shuttle," Cristina Chaplain, the director of acquisition and sourcing management at the US Government Accountability Office, said during the hearing. The space shuttle had a 1-in-90 chance of crew loss.

    "A considerable amount of work remains to be done to determine whether the contractors will meet this requirement," she said.

    Both Boeing and SpaceX have delayed scheduled uncrewed and crewed launches, as well as final certification testing, while working through safety issues.

    SpaceX was supposed to launch its first crewed flight by the end of 2016 and have NASA approve its certification (a step the government requires before NASA can pick a space taxi for its astronauts) by the end of last summer. Meanwhile, Boeing was supposed to have a crewed flight test by the end of summer and have NASA certify its system in the fall.

    Those dates have come and gone without any crewed flights or certifications.

    spacex flight spacesuit crew dragon elon musk instagram 21373768_1916210985308243_8524661976842895360_nAccording to NASA and testimonies before the subcommittee on Wednesday, SpaceX is now targeting December for its first crewed demonstration flight and February 2019 for certification. Boeing is looking at October for its first crewed flight and January 2019 for certification.

    The GAO, which provides oversight to federal agencies, primarily blames overoptimistic contractor schedules for the delays — and is even skeptical of the new dates.

    A GAO report released on Wednesday says: "The Commercial Crew Program is tracking risks that both contractors could experience additional schedule delays and, based on our ongoing work, we found that the program's own analysis indicates that certification is likely to slip into December 2019 for SpaceX and February 2020 for Boeing."

    During the hearing, Chaplain laid out the context and implications of these challenges.

    "Aggressive schedules and delays are not atypical for programs developing new launch vehicles and/or crew vehicles, and we see them on all types of contracts," she said. "But in this case, the delays and uncertain final certification dates raise questions about whether the US will have uninterrupted access to the space station beyond 2019.

    "NASA may have to purchase additional Soyuz seats. But as Mr. Gerstenmaier mentioned, there are limits to how it can do so."

    Safety over schedule

    boeing cst 100 starliner spaceship capsule illustration nasa

    After the crews of the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia died in accidents, government investigations concluded that NASA had emphasized meeting its schedules at the expense of proper safety protocols. Today, NASA is not shy about proclaiming its new modus operandi.

    Of the delays, Gerstenmaier said, "NASA is aware of the schedule, but not driven by the schedule."

    But an ultimate deadline is staring NASA in the face: The agency must take advantage of its incredible investment before the space station has to be deorbited in 2024.

    "With the end of the ISS on the horizon, the clock is ticking on maximizing the return on the taxpayer's investment," Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican who chairs the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, said during the hearing. "The longer we wait for the Commercial Crew Program, the less we can accomplish on ISS."

    At issue for Boeing, according to the GAO, is a problem with the protective heat shield on its Starliner spacecraft. During a return to Earth, there's a chance it could damage the parachute system, which is required to slow down and safely land the capsule.

    Meanwhile, SpaceX has received additional scrutiny from NASA since its Falcon 9 rocket exploded on a launchpad in September 2016, most likely because of a pressure vessel that burst during fueling. For extra rocket power, the company wants to load its Falcon 9 rockets with cryogenic fuel while astronauts are on board — a departure from decades of safety protocol.

    If Boeing and SpaceX can't certify spaceships before NASA runs out of Soyuz flight options, US astronauts may find themselves all dressed up with no way to get to the space station.

    SEE ALSO: Here's how much money it actually costs to launch stuff into space

    DON'T MISS: The most mind-blowing space and astronomy pictures of 2017

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: There's a place at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean where hundreds of giant spacecraft go to die


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    The Soyuz TMA-17M spacecraft carrying the International Space Station (ISS) crew of Kjell Lindgren of the U.S., Oleg Kononenko of Russia and Kimiya Yui of Japan leaves a trail across the sky on this long exposure picture, as it blasts off at the Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, July 23, 2015  REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla (Reuters) - A Russian Soyuz capsule carrying three new crew for the International Space Station arrived at the orbital outpost on Wednesday after a two-month launch delay, a NASA TV broadcast showed.

    Veteran Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and rookie astronauts Kjell Lindgren with NASA and Japan's Kimiya Yui blasted off aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket at 5:02 p.m. from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

    They arrived less than six hours later to begin a five-month mission aboard the station, a $100-billion laboratory that flies about 250 miles (400 km) above Earth.

    The trio had been set to fly in May, but Russia delayed the mission after a botched launch of a similar Soyuz rocket on April 28. That accident stranded a Progress cargo ship in an orbit too low to reach the station.

    Nine days later, the capsule, loaded with three tons of equipment and supplies, fell back into Earth's atmosphere and was incinerated.

    Accident investigators determined that the Progress failed to separate properly from the Soyuz rocket's third-stage engine. The Soyuz returned to flight on July 3, successfully launching a replacement load of cargo to the station.

    "We're confident in the rocket ... we're all very excited to launch," Lindgren, 42, told a pre-launch news conference.

    Two U.S. companies that fly cargo to the station under contract with the U.S. space agency also lost capsules after recent failed launches. Privately owned SpaceX and Orbital ATK remain grounded following accidents last month and in October 2014, respectively.

    A fourth station resupply line is operated by Japan, which is scheduled to fly again in August."It's certainly no fun to see several of the cargo vehicles undergo mishaps," Lindgren said. "It underscores the difficulty of this industry and ... how unforgiving the space environment is."

    The arrival of Lindgren, Kononenko, 51, and Yui, 45, returns the space station to a full six-member crew for the first time in six weeks.

    "We look forward to seeing them," U.S. station flight engineer Scott Kelly said during an inflight interview on Tuesday.

    Kelly and Russia's Mikhail Kornienko are participating in the station's first year-long mission. Also aboard is veteran cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, the current station commander.

    The Soyuz capsule arrived on Wednesday with just one pair of its power-producing solar arrays deployed. NASA mission commentator Kyle Herring said the glitch had no impact on the capsule’s flight and docking.

    (Editing by Tom Brown and Clarence Fernandez)

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    soyuzms01 crew 879x485

    Tonight at 9:36 pm ET, a Russian rocket will launch three astronauts to the International Space Station. The rocket, an upgraded Soyuz rocket, will launch out of Kazakhstan.

    The launch was originally scheduled for spring, but was set back due to a potential issue with the spacecraft’s software.

    The crew includes astronauts from three different space agencies: NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, veteran Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin, and former Japanese airline pilot Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

    Rubins, who has a Ph.D in cancer biology, is the first female astronaut the ISS has seen since 2015. Once there, she will work on scientific research, becoming the first person to sequence DNA in space.

    The astronauts will be riding in an upgraded version of Russia's Soyuz rocket. The rocket has new redundant thrusters and electrical motors for the vehicle’s docking probe, NASA said. It also has extra photovoltaic cells on its solar panels and additional shielding against micrometeoroid debris. To top it off, the Soyuz has a new video transmitter, updated communications capabilities, and a better satellite navigation system.

    Although Soyuz flights to the ISS usually take just six hours, this trip will take about two days — the trio isn’t expected to arrive at the space station until shortly after midnight on Saturday. This extra time will allow the crew to test out some of the upgrades made to the Soyuz rocket.

    The spacecraft will complete 34 orbits around Earth before docking at the ISS at 12:12 am ET. Two hours after docking, the hatch will open and the astronauts will join NASA astronaut Jeff Williams and Russian cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin. They are expected to stay on board until October.

    You can watch the launch live on NASA TV or below:

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    NOW WATCH: Here's The Play-By-Play Of A Soyuz Capsule Docking At The International Space Station This Morning


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    Tonight at 9:36 pm ET, a Russian rocket launched three astronauts to the International Space Station. The rocket, an upgraded Soyuz rocket, launched out of Kazakhstan.

    The launch was originally scheduled for spring, but was set back due to a potential issue with the spacecraft’s software.

    The crew includes astronauts from three different space agencies: NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, veteran Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin, and former Japanese airline pilot Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

    According to NASA, this flight is a "reflection of the spirit of international cooperation that brought the world's most complex spacecraft together."

    Rubins, who has a Ph.D in cancer biology, is the first female astronaut the ISS has seen since 2015. Once there, she will work on scientific research, becoming the first person to sequence DNA in space.

    The astronauts will be riding in an upgraded version of Russia's Soyuz rocket. The rocket has new redundant thrusters and electrical motors for the vehicle’s docking probe, NASA said. It also has extra photovoltaic cells on its solar panels and additional shielding against micrometeoroid debris. To top it off, the Soyuz has a new video transmitter, updated communications capabilities, and a better satellite navigation system.

    The upgrades were made to increase the reliability of the spacecraft and enhance its performance and technical specifications.

    Although Soyuz flights to the ISS usually take just six hours, this trip will take about two days — the trio isn’t expected to arrive at the space station until shortly after midnight on Saturday. This extra time will allow the crew to test out some of the upgrades made to the Soyuz rocket.

    The spacecraft will complete 34 orbits around Earth before docking at the ISS at 12:12 am ET. Two hours after docking, the hatch will open and the astronauts will join NASA astronaut Jeff Williams and Russian cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin. They are expected to stay on board until October.

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    NOW WATCH: Here's The Play-By-Play Of A Soyuz Capsule Docking At The International Space Station This Morning


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    Soyuz MS-01 NASA

    NASA is in quite a financial pickle with the Russians.

    When the agency retired its space shuttle program in 2011, it was banking on commercial carriers — ultimately SpaceX and Boeing— to design, build, and test proven systems to launch its astronauts into space by 2015.

    But those plans have been waylaid by 3 years, according to a buck-stopping audit by NASA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016.

    This leaves the agency with one option for sending astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) 220 miles above Earth: a Russian spacecraft called the Soyuz.

    And Russia is taking full advantage of its temporary monopoly.

    Roscosmos, Russia's space agency, used to charge NASA as little as $21.8 million per seat in 2008 (when the space shuttle was still around).

    By 2018, however, it intends to charge NASA $81 million per seat by 2018 — a cost increase of 372% over 10 years:

    Chart showing how much Russia is charging NASA per seat for launching US astronauts.

    The latest NASA OIG audit — coincidentally released the morning that SpaceX's uncrewed Falcon 9 rocket exploded on a launch pad during a routine test (no one was harmed, but Facebook's first satellite was destroyed) — follows up on a report it released in November 2013.

    The new audit finds that the delays by SpaceX and Boeing is going to cost NASA dearly in payments to Roscosmos.

    "Had the Agency met its original goal of securing commercial crew transportation by calendar year 2015, NASA could have avoided paying Russia close to $1 billion for Soyuz seats in 2017 and 2018, even factoring in the purchase of some seats in 2016 to cover the expected transition period," the OIG report states.

    The chart below factors in the price of a seat and the number of astronauts that NASA plans to launch (about six per year), to show how much NASA has paid Russia and could end up paying. The total cost over 12 years is more than $3.36 billion.

    Assuming NASA's budget remains roughly $18.5 billion a year, that means about 3% of the agency's funding could be diverted to Russia in 2018:

    Chart showing how much Russia is charging NASA for launching US astronauts.

    A presentation given by a NASA official in May 2016 estimates the cost of each seat aboard SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft and Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft will be $58 million.

    The audit makes clear that any other hiccups in the NASA's commercial crew program, which could earn Boeing and SpaceX up to $4.2 billion and $2.6 billion (respectively) for their services, will be costly.

    spacex dragon spacecraft GettyImages 494548549"Given the delays in initiating a U.S. capacity to transport crew to the ISS, NASA has extended its contract with the Russian Space Agency for astronaut transportation through 2018 at an additional cost of $490 million," the report stated. "If the Commercial Crew Program experiences additional delays, NASA may need to buy additional seats from Russia to ensure a continued U.S. presence on the ISS."

    A response to the OIG findings in the report, penned by William Gerstenmaier — NASA's associate administrator for human exploration — agreed with the report's overall findings. Yet Gerstenmaier emphasized the importance of making sure commercial spacecraft are safe to fly.

    "Excessive focus on timeliness and schedule can result in reducing the overall safety of the system," Gerstenmaier wrote. "Timeliness must not be over stressed[.]"

    Business Insider contacted Boeing and SpaceX about the new OIG report. Although SpaceX did not immediately respond, Boeing issued the following statement to Business Insider:

    "We continue to work toward achieving certification and providing safe crew transportation services to and from the International Space Station with the first launch (orbital flight test) expected in 2017. As in any development program, issues can stress the schedule and we are working shoulder-to-shoulder with NASA to overcome them. Boeing has been a partner with NASA on the Starliner system since 2010 and we’ve made significant progress on the maturity of our design."

    We also asked representatives at SpaceX if the company's Sept. 1 Falcon 9 explosion could affect the company's rocket launch schedule and human spaceflight plans, and they told us by email:

    "[O]ur number one priority is to safely and reliably return to flight for our customers, as well as to take all the necessary steps to ensure the highest possible levels of safety for future crewed missions with the Falcon 9. We will carefully and thoroughly investigate and address this issue."

    A NASA spokesperson told Business Insider by email (our emphasis added in bold):

    "NASA remains confident in our commercial partners and in the goals of the Commercial Crew Program to take astronauts to and from low-Earth orbit. It is too early to know whether Thursday's incident will impact their development schedules. Spacecraft and launch vehicles designed for the Commercial Crew Program must meet NASA's stringent safety criteria before being certified to launch crews into space. Successfully meeting those requirements has always taken precedence over schedule."

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    NOW WATCH: Watch the dramatic moment SpaceX rocket explodes


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    soyuz russia roscosmos spaceship nasa

    Tonight three people who have spent 172 days in orbit above the Earth will attempt to return home.

    But they won't be riding in a US spacecraft.

    NASA retired its space shuttle fleet in 2011. Meanwhile, commercial carriers like SpaceX and Boeing are still building, testing, and certifying their spaceships, respectively called Dragon and CST-100 Starliner.

    Today only one spaceship can launch people more than 200 miles above Earth, drop them off at the International Space Station (ISS), and fly them back: a Russian spacecraft called the Soyuz, which first launched in 1966 and means "union" in Russian.

    Though Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, has upgraded the three-module Soyuz design several times over the decades, it has hardly changed its core layout.

    What it charges other space agencies per seat, however, has changed dramatically in recent years.

    Below is a chart that shows what Russia has historically charged NASA per Soyuz spot since 2006, plus what it plans to charge in the near future, according to a new report that NASA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) released on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016:

    Chart showing how much Russia is charging NASA per seat for launching US astronauts.

    The cheapest Soyuz seats NASA ever paid for were $21.8 million in 2007 and 2008.

    As soon as the space agency permanently grounded its space shuttles, though, Russia sharply raised the cost per seat. And it shows no signs of stopping while NASA, JAXA, and the European Space Agency wait for other options.

    By 2018, NASA and its partners will have to pay roughly $81 million per person to ride a Soyuz to the ISS and back again — a cost increase of 372% in 10 years. (The total cost to NASA over 12 years will be about $3.37 billion.)

    That contrasts to the $58 million NASA expects to pay per seat aboard SpaceX's and Boeing's ships, or roughly $214 million per space shuttle passenger. (Both numbers account for total lifetime costs of each spacecraft's development.)

    What will $81 million get you on a Soyuz?

    One of the safest trips to space, yet cramped between avionics and bags of cargo — for anywhere from 6 hours to 2 days per leg of the journey:

    soyuz astronauts cosmonauts russia roscosmos spaceship esa nasa

    Companies like Space Adventures have also purchased Soyuz seats in the past, sending mega-millionaires like videogame developer Richard Garriott up to the ISS.

    But the space outfitter's next mission is far more ambitious: It intends to recreate the Apollo 8 mission of 1968 and launch a lucky passenger (and two cosmonaut accomplices) around the moon.

    At $150 million per seat per lunar trip, it's starting to sound like a bargain.

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    NOW WATCH: Watch the dramatic moment SpaceX rocket explodes


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    Soyuz TMA 19M rocket launch nasa

    NASA, in dealing with Russia's monopoly on human spaceflight, is hoping Boeing can help — that is, by buying tickets the company owns for rides aboard Russian rockets.

    When NASA retired its last space shuttle in July 2011, it expected commercial carriers like SpaceX and Boeing to launch its astronauts into space by 2015.

    But both companies hit snags with the development of their rockets and spaceships, causing the first planned launches to slip to 2018, according to a September 2016 audit by NASA's Office of Inspector General (OIG).

    This left NASA with one option for getting astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) for the next 3 years: a Russian spacecraft called the Soyuz.

    NASA is no stranger to buying Soyuz seats — it has done so for more than a decade — but Russia has taken full advantage of its temporary monopoly to charge ever-more-exorbitant sums for them. And now the space agency may need more than it originally expected.

    As Eric Berger reported Wednesday at Ars Technica, NASA issued a new solicitation on January 17 to buy two more Soyuz seats from Boeing, plus "an option to acquire crew transportation from Boeing for three crewmembers on the Soyuz in 2019." In other words: NASA may end up buying five tickets aboard the Soyuz from Boeing.

    If that sounds a little convoluted, particularly since Boeing's delays helped put NASA in this pickle in the first place, welcome to the current state of human spaceflight industry.

    As Berger notes at Ars Technica, RSC Energia — the Russian entity that makes and launches Soyuz rockets and spacecraft — recently settled a $320 million lawsuit with Boeing. Part of Boeing's settlement package includes five Soyuz seats and, according to NASA's recent solicitation, one is scheduled for 2017, another for 2018, and three for 2019.

    NASA wants those tickets to ensure it's making good on its roughly $75 billion investment in the ISS, set to disband in 2024, by filling it up with as many crewmembers as possible.

    What might NASA pay Boeing for each of its Soyuz tickets?

    A NASA representative declined to provide Business Insider with an estimate, but noted "prices will be finalized during contract negotiations" and that the space agency "will ensure it receives a fair and reasonable price for the transportation services from Boeing before a contract is awarded."

    Representatives from Boeing also wouldn't give specific numbers, but told Business Insider in an email that "the pricing is attractive" and that "we would not charge NASA more than what they would pay Roscosmos [Russia's space agency] if they were purchasing these seats directly."

    If what Roscosmos charges is any guide, however, Boeing's Soyuz seats could still cost NASA dearly.

    When NASA still had the space shuttle in 2008, Roscosmos charged it as little as $21.8 million per Soyuz seat. By 2018, however, it intends to charge NASA $81 million per seat — an increase of 372% over 10 years:

    Chart showing how much Russia is charging NASA per seat for launching US astronauts.

    That's according to NASA OIG's September 2016 audit data.

    The chart below, also based on the report, factors in the price of a seat and the number of astronauts that NASA plans to launch (about six per year) to show how much NASA has paid Russia and could end up paying for Soyuz seats.

    The total cost over 12 years is more than $3.36 billion — and that's not including the possible purchase of Boeing's three Soyuz seats for 2019.

    Assuming NASA's budget remains roughly $18.5 billion a year, that means about 3% of the agency's funding could be diverted to Russia in 2018:

    Chart showing how much Russia is charging NASA for launching US astronauts.

    A presentation given by a NASA official in May 2016 estimates the cost of each seat aboard SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft and Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft will be $58 million.

    The Sept. 2016 audit made clear that any other hiccups in the NASA's commercial crew program, which could earn Boeing and SpaceX up to $4.2 billion and $2.6 billion (respectively) for their services, will be costly.

    "Given the delays in initiating a U.S. capacity to transport crew to the ISS, NASA has extended its contract with the Russian Space Agency for astronaut transportation through 2018 at an additional cost of $490 million," the report stated. "If the Commercial Crew Program experiences additional delays, NASA may need to buy additional seats from Russia to ensure a continued U.S. presence on the ISS."

    Indeed, that looks to be the way things are headed now.

    This article was updated to include new information provided after its original publication.

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    NOW WATCH: Watch the dramatic moment SpaceX rocket explodes


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    dove micro satellite nanosat planet labs

    So far, humanity has launched more than 4,000 satellites into orbit above Earth.

    That may seem like a lot, but the party is just getting started.

    On July 14, a company called Planet Labs launched four dozen tiny satellites into orbit — all at once — and recorded part of the feat from space using a similar tiny satellite.

    "For years, we've been talking about getting that perfect shot from space of a rocket mid-flight," Vincent Beukelaers, an aerospace engineer at Planet Labs, wrote in a blog post. "[A]s our on-orbit fleet has grown in size, the odds of one of our satellites being in the right position to image these rocket launches have only increased. Last week, the orbits aligned."

    The feat was possible because the cost of launching payloads is shrinking, thanks in part to companies like SpaceX (which hopes to launch 4,425 satellites to provide global high-speed internet).

    Advances in electronics have also shrunk the payloads themselves. Pretty soon, satellites small enough to pick up in one hand — often called nanosats or microsatellites — will outnumber the typical car- or bus-sized variety in space.

    Here's how Planet Labs photographed its own launch from space.

    The company booked a flight through Roscosmos, Russia's space agency, to launch a "flock" of 48 new satellites using a Soyuz rocket. On July 14, one of Planet Labs' satellites was flying near the mission's Baikonur Cosmodrome launch site in Kazakhstan.

    At the moment of launch, the company turned the satellite askew to follow and photograph the rocket as it flew toward space. This series of photos, which are stitched together and sped up, is the result:


    The clip shows the Soyuz rocket blasting off the launch pad and climbing toward space. (The moment the satellites were dropped off in orbit wasn't recorded because that viewing angle wasn't possible.)

    Roscosmos also recorded its rocket launch from the ground. Here's what that looked like:


    Planet Labs now has 190 nanosats in orbit. The company's ultimate goal is to deploy a fleet of its low-cost "Dove" nanosatellites to provide continuous daily image coverage of the Earth's surface.

    With such imagery, it becomes more possible to track activities of interest to companies, governments, and individuals, like this:


    These example images, recorded by Planet Labs' fleet, show Apple constructing its spaceship campus in California.

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    nasa astronaut selfie international space station iss earth 11572307115_1194957269_o

    • A House subcommittee held a hearing on Wednesday on NASA's program to build new spaceships to reach the International Space Station.
    • Boeing and SpaceX, the two contractors in the program, are experiencing delays due to NASA's stringent safety requirements.
    • The only means of reaching the ISS, Russia's Soyuz spacecraft, may not be able to fly astronauts after 2019.
    • That could mean astronauts will soon have no way to get to and from NASA's $100 billion investment in the sky.


    NASA has spent the better part of 20 years and $100 billion working on the International Space Station.

    But in a couple of years, astronauts may have no way to get to and from the US space agency's football-field-size laboratory in the sky, according to testimonies from government officials on Wednesday.

    The problem is a lack of available spaceships, both foreign and domestic.

    NASA contracted Boeing and SpaceX to build a safer and more cost-effective replacement for its space shuttle, which was retired in July 2011. The original contracts called for certification and regular flights with astronauts by the end of 2017, but that didn't happen.

    soyuz russia roscosmos spaceship nasa

    To fill the gap while the companies developed their spaceships, NASA purchased seats aboard Russia's Soyuz spacecraft.

    Delays by Boeing and SpaceX prompted the space agency to purchase more seats — at exorbitant prices— but it appears even that option will soon expire.

    "Soyuz capability is available through the fall of 2019," William Gerstenmaier, the head of NASA's human exploration and operations directorate, said during a hearing with a subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

    He added: "The manufacturing time of a Soyuz of approximately three years will not allow additional Soyuz to be manufactured."

    That means that if by the end of 2019 Boeing can't certify its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, or SpaceX its Crew Dragon capsule, astronauts may have no way to reach the ISS for an indeterminate amount of time.

    The stakes are immense. The ISS, now complete, is in the prime of its operation and best equipped to study spaceflight's effects on the human body, ideally to help crews survive coming missions to the moon, Mars, and anywhere else.

    Sky-high optimism?

    international space station iss nasa

    In 2010, about a year before it retired the space shuttle, NASA began the Commercial Crew Program: a competition to build new spaceships and prove their safety by 2017.

    Boeing and SpaceX won the multistage competition and have so far received $4.82 billion and $3.14 billion in taxpayer money to fund their work.

    NASA, working with other government agencies and Congress, decided Boeing and SpaceX's spacecraft must have less than a 1-in-200 chance of killing a crew in an accident.

    "Both contractor systems must meet a standard for crew safety that is much higher than that for the shuttle," Cristina Chaplain, the director of acquisition and sourcing management at the US Government Accountability Office, said during the hearing. The space shuttle had a 1-in-90 chance of crew loss.

    "A considerable amount of work remains to be done to determine whether the contractors will meet this requirement," she said.

    Both Boeing and SpaceX have delayed scheduled uncrewed and crewed launches, as well as final certification testing, while working through safety issues.

    SpaceX was supposed to launch its first crewed flight by the end of 2016 and have NASA approve its certification (a step the government requires before NASA can pick a space taxi for its astronauts) by the end of last summer. Meanwhile, Boeing was supposed to have a crewed flight test by the end of summer and have NASA certify its system in the fall.

    Those dates have come and gone without any crewed flights or certifications.

    spacex flight spacesuit crew dragon elon musk instagram 21373768_1916210985308243_8524661976842895360_nAccording to NASA and testimonies before the subcommittee on Wednesday, SpaceX is now targeting December for its first crewed demonstration flight and February 2019 for certification. Boeing is looking at October for its first crewed flight and January 2019 for certification.

    The GAO, which provides oversight to federal agencies, primarily blames overoptimistic contractor schedules for the delays — and is even skeptical of the new dates.

    A GAO report released on Wednesday says: "The Commercial Crew Program is tracking risks that both contractors could experience additional schedule delays and, based on our ongoing work, we found that the program's own analysis indicates that certification is likely to slip into December 2019 for SpaceX and February 2020 for Boeing."

    During the hearing, Chaplain laid out the context and implications of these challenges.

    "Aggressive schedules and delays are not atypical for programs developing new launch vehicles and/or crew vehicles, and we see them on all types of contracts," she said. "But in this case, the delays and uncertain final certification dates raise questions about whether the US will have uninterrupted access to the space station beyond 2019.

    "NASA may have to purchase additional Soyuz seats. But as Mr. Gerstenmaier mentioned, there are limits to how it can do so."

    Safety over schedule

    boeing cst 100 starliner spaceship capsule illustration nasa

    After the crews of the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia died in accidents, government investigations concluded that NASA had emphasized meeting its schedules at the expense of proper safety protocols. Today, NASA is not shy about proclaiming its new modus operandi.

    Of the delays, Gerstenmaier said, "NASA is aware of the schedule, but not driven by the schedule."

    But an ultimate deadline is staring NASA in the face: The agency must take advantage of its incredible investment before the space station has to be deorbited in 2024.

    "With the end of the ISS on the horizon, the clock is ticking on maximizing the return on the taxpayer's investment," Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican who chairs the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, said during the hearing. "The longer we wait for the Commercial Crew Program, the less we can accomplish on ISS."

    At issue for Boeing, according to the GAO, is a problem with the protective heat shield on its Starliner spacecraft. During a return to Earth, there's a chance it could damage the parachute system, which is required to slow down and safely land the capsule.

    Meanwhile, SpaceX has received additional scrutiny from NASA since its Falcon 9 rocket exploded on a launchpad in September 2016, most likely because of a pressure vessel that burst during fueling. For extra rocket power, the company wants to load its Falcon 9 rockets with cryogenic fuel while astronauts are on board — a departure from decades of safety protocol.

    If Boeing and SpaceX can't certify spaceships before NASA runs out of Soyuz flight options, US astronauts may find themselves all dressed up with no way to get to the space station.

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    soyuz ms 10 rocket launch flight photographers expedition 57 crew nasa reuters 2018 10 11T091619Z_1854069770_RC17A46851B0_RTRMADP_3_SPACE STATION LAUNCH.JPG

    • A Soyuz rocket carrying a NASA astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut failed in mid-flight on Thursday, though the crew survived without injury.
    • Roscosmos, Russia's space agency, is looking into the failure. It's unknown how long this will take, though NASA's administrator expects the investigation "to go swiftly."
    • Soyuz is the only human-rated spacecraft available to NASA, Europe, Russia, and other partners of the International Space Station— but it is now grounded indefinitely.
    • SpaceX and Boeing are building new commercial ships to reach the space station, but they wouldn't help with the current situation.
    • Three people living aboard the $100-billion space station could even be forced to evacuate the orbiting laboratory in January 2019.

    An astronaut and cosmonaut survived a harrowing mid-flight failure of a Russian Soyuz rocket on Thursday morning.

    But human access to space is now on hold indefinitely while authorities investigate the launch failure.

    After NASA retired its space shuttle fleet in 2011 without a replacement, the US had no American spaceship to fly people to and from the International Space Station (ISS).

    SpaceX and Boeing are building new commercial ships for NASA to ferry astronauts and cosmonauts to and from the floating laboratory, but those vehicles aren't finished. The soonest they might fly people is mid-2019, and approval for standard crewed missions may not come until the end of next year.

    So for the past seven years, the US, Russia, Europe, Japan, and others have relied on one, and only one, viable crew launch system: the Soyuz, which is now grounded until further notice.

    "The Soyuz has been a reliable workhorse we could count on to safely deliver crews to the ISS," Wayne Hale — an engineer, rocket accident investigator, and a former NASA space shuttle director — told Business Insider in an email. "Until the cause of this failure can be determined and corrected this puts our toehold in space at extreme risk."

    That toehold is the space station, which has been occupied by crew members continuously for nearly 18 years.

    soyuz russia roscosmos spaceship nasa

    The big bright spot, say Hale and other spaceflight experts, is that Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin and NASA astronaut Nick Hague, who were on board the rocket when it failed, actually survived.

    "This isn't a surprise to astronauts. All machines fail eventually. The real question is, are you ready for your machine to fail or not?" Chris Hadfield, a retired astronaut who's flown the Soyuz to space, said in a live Periscope broadcast on Thursday morning.

    Hadfield, who last flew aboard a Soyuz in 2013, added: "The beauty is it shows everything worked. The crew's fine. The crew didn't get hurt. All the systems that were there in case of a rocket failure worked. It's not what you want to happen, but it happens."

    What went wrong during the Russian rocket launch

    soyuz ms 10 rocket kazakhstan roscosmos nasa 44297507175_10d30e86ff_o

    On Thursday morning, Ovchinin and Hague stuffed themselves into a tiny space capsule atop a 150-foot-tall rocket.

    The Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft system, as the rocket and capsule is called, lifted off from a launch pad in Kazakhstan around 4:40 a.m. EDT and zoomed toward space.

    But about two minutes after liftoff, when the rocket was mostly out of sight from the ground, a second-stage booster on the rocket failed as four large side boosters were jettisoned.

    That's when an "ABORT" light appeared in the cabin and, about a second later, the system automatically ejected the capsule, Kenny Todd, the space station's Mission Operations Integration Manager, said during a press briefing on Thursday.

    Todd couldn't say whether the second-stage rocket exploded or simply lost thrust, but estimated the crew ejected some 30 miles above Earth, which is halfway to the edge of space.

    "The automated systems kicked in. The system knew the rocket wasn't providing the acceleration it was supposed to, so it ejected or deployed the Soyuz off the top," Hadfield said. "The little capsule came tumbling down, got itself pointed the right way, deployed its parachute, and lowered the crew down to the ground."

    cosmonaut alexey ovchinin astronaut nick hague soyuz ms 10 flight expedition 57 crew nasa 29996160677_e33702f066_o

    During the first leg part of its 34-minute journey back to Earth, the capsule entered what's called a ballistic descent — essentially the equivalent of falling out of the sky like a stone thrown into the air.

    This is risky because the capsule isn't on a path to best use Earth's atmosphere to gradually slow down.

    "If you're ballistic, you're just falling. When the air gets thick, it's sort of like hitting water, and you get squished up to 8G or more," Hadfield said, referring to a force eight times the strength of Earth's gravity at the surface. "It's a safe but much more rugged way to enter."

    The crew was weightless for a moment, but their rigorous training had prepared them for a worst-case scenario like this. That hard work leading up to the launch is why Hadfield thinks the crew probably felt more disappointed than scared.

    "Their main reaction would have been one of frustration, and probably anger, because they've been training a long time to get ready for this launch, and to have the rocket fail means they're not going to space today," Hadfield said. "The good news is that they're safe."

    Reid Wiseman, a NASA astronaut who works on the ISS program, said during Thursday's press briefing that his "heart was beating hard" when he saw the abort.

    "'I hope they get down safe.' That was the only thing going through my mind," Wiseman said.

    Roscosmos is looking into the failure that led to aborting the mission. Some Russian media outlets are even reporting that a criminal investigation has been launched, perhaps in response of drill holes recently discovered on a Soyuz spacecraft docked to the ISS.

    soyuz ms 10 rocket launch failure space alexander gerst esa nasa 44335552035_379e463dd4_o

    German astronaut Alexander Gerst was photographing the launch from aboard the ISS when the Soyuz failure occurred. He managed to capture a view of the capsule as it ejected from the rocket.

    "Glad our friends are fine," Gerst, who is the ISS commander, said in a tweet after the launch. "Today showed again what an amazing vehicle the Soyuz is, to be able to save the crew from such a failure. Spaceflight is hard. And we must keep trying for the benefit of humankind."

    Gerst is currently living aboard the space station with NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor and cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev.

    What will happen to the 3 people on board the space station?

    international space station iss nasa

    No one is certain exactly what the plan is yet for Auñón-Chancellor, Gerst, and Prokopyev. Before the failure, they were scheduled to return to Earth in December.

    "It could be many months," Hadfield said. "They're basically marooned there, indefinitely at this point, until we can get another vehicle that can get up there."

    This is only true in terms of keeping the ISS staffed. The crew does have another Soyuz spacecraft attached to the space station, and they can board it to evacuate — either in an emergency or at the direction of mission control.

    But that Soyuz "lifeboat" spacecraft only has a roughly 200-day shelf life in space.

    "There's a little bit of margin on the other side of that, but not a lot of margin," Todd said.

    Since the Soyuz arrived in June, this means the crew might be forced to evacuate in January, Todd said. This is more likely to happen if a Soyuz mission scheduled for launch in December doesn't fly as planned. (The next Soyuz flight after that is currently scheduled for April.)

    For its part, NASA and its partners want to keep the crew on board the space station as long as possible.

    "We need to think about the long-term plan for the health of the crew on the space station, and the health of the space station itself. If you abandon the space station, then there's no one there to fix things as they fail, and it'll eventually have a serious problem," Hadfield said. "So my expectation will be that they will prolong the time for the crew on the space station for as long as feasible."

    alexander gerst european german astronaut thumbs up esa nasa

    Wiseman said he spoke to the crew Thursday morning and that they're prepared for whatever comes next.

    "They're ready to serve at the will of the program," Wiseman said during the press briefing. "They will stay up there as long as they are needed to."

    Wiseman and Todd said the ISS has plenty of supplies, with more on the way from cargo ships like SpaceX's Dragon. Todd also said it's too early to be worried about emptying the space station, since the Soyuz investigation may last only weeks instead of months.

    But if it comes to it, Todd said, the ISS can be fully evacuated and operated remotely for some time, especially given several redundant systems.

    "We could tolerate some significant failures and continue to operate," Todd said, though science experiments that crew members run aboard the station would be affected.

    Why can't Boeing and SpaceX step in to help?

    nasa astronauts commercial crew program august 2018 AP_18215575643268

    Although SpaceX's Crew Dragon and Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft are nearing completion as part of NASA's Commercial Crew program, they're not yet ready for primetime. The earliest NASA is willing to test-launch either ship with astronauts on board is a very fuzzy date of mid-2019.

    NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement on Thursday that "a thorough investigation into the cause of the incident will be conducted."

    Roscosmos didn't provide an estimate on how long a Soyuz-failure commission will take to conclude its work.

    On Friday, however, Bridenstine told reporters that he thinks "the investigation is going to go swiftly" because Russian technicians have a "really good idea" as to what caused the accident, according to the Washington Post. (Bridenstine reportedly declined to provide further details.)

    Even if the investigation is concluded quickly, though, it's not yet known which fixes might need to be made to Soyuz — and Russia's Progress cargo spaceships, which use the same rocket system — and how long any alterations might take.

    If the Soyuz failure takes months to figure out and remedy, though, it could actually end up further delaying SpaceX and Boeing's first crewed test-launches.

    That's because NASA requires a crew on the space station in case anything goes wrong with docking operations of the Crew Dragon or Starliner.

    "The space station is a $100-billion asset to the world," Todd said. "Having a crew on board and being able to monitor these crews as they approach, it's certainly important."

    In any case, Hadfield said this is not the end of Russia or NASA's space programs.

    "If your car has an engine failure, are you never going to drive a car again? Of course you are," Hadfield said.

    John Logsdon, a space policy expert, author, and spaceflight historian at George Washington University's Space Policy Institute, says he is not surprised by the pickle that NASA and its partners are now in.

    "We conducted an unstable space policy, in terms of space transportation. In retrospect, you could argue we retired the shuttle prematurely. In retrospect, you can argue Congress didn't not provide adequate funding to Commercial Crew in its early years, and that's delayed it by two to three years," Logsdon said. "You can't live life backwards, but we're kind of paying the price for less-than-stellar decisions."

    Are you a space industry insider with a story or information to share? Send Dave Mosher an email or get in touch through one of the secure options listed here.

    This story has been updated. It was originally published at 2:47 p.m. EDT on October 11, 2018.

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