Soyuz – What next?

Many of my readers will be aware the Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft failed to get into orbit on Thursday 11 October. It was on a mission to take fresh crew to the International Space Station (ISS).

Mission patch for Soyuz MS-10

A major fault occurred at an altitude of about 50 km when the booster rocket failed, causing the spacecraft to start falling back to Earth. Fortunately, the space capsule containing the crew separated successfully from the faulty rocket and the astronauts landed unharmed.

The Russian Space agency is now investigating the cause of the failure. The next mission to rotate the ISS crew,  Soyuz MS-11,  was  scheduled to take place on 20 December, but this has now been put on hold. Hopefully the cause of the failure will be identified and rectified, enabling the launch to happen as originally planned. However, if Soyuz is grounded for a longer period then the existing crew will have to abandon the ISS (using a Soyuz spacecraft which is attached to the station) until Soyuz is allowed to fly again or American missions start. This would be the first time that the ISS has been unoccupied since Nov 2000, when the first crew arrived.

This failure underlies how dependent America and the other nations are on Soyuz, a spacecraft first flown more than 50 years ago. For the rest of this post I’ll talk about this spacecraft which has effectively become the space station ‘taxi’.

The First Mission

On 23 April 1967, six years after Yuri Gagarin had became the first man to go into space, a Soviet Soyuz spacecraft was launched carrying cosmonaut Vladimir Komorov. He completed 18 orbits and then returned to Earth.

Mission patch for the first Soyuz mission

Sadly, during reentry the parachute failed to open properly and the spacecraft was destroyed when it hit the Earth at high speed and burst into flames – killing Komorov and giving him the unfortunate distinction of being the first person to die in space flight.

Despite this initial setback, the Soyuz spacecraft was successfully flown back into space the following year, when cosmonaut Georgy Beregovoy, a decorated World War 2 hero, completed 81 orbits and landed safely.

A Soviet 10 kopek stamp showing  Georgy Beregovoy. The Soyuz rocket is in the background – image from Wikimedia commons

Since Beregovoy’s mission, Soyuz has been launched into space a further 137 times, and has proved to be a great success, outliving the vastly more expensive  technologically advanced Space Shuttle. It has established itself to be a reliable and safe way of getting into Earth orbit.  In fact, since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011, it has been the only way of getting astronauts to and from the ISS.  A fact worth bearing in mind given the somewhat tense relationship between Russia and the West.

The spacecraft

The Soyuz spacecraft was designed in the Soviet Union in the early 1960s. The chief designer was a man called Sergei Korolev (1907-1966), who was the driving force behind many of the early successes in the Soviet space programme.

Korolev in 1956 – image from Wikimedia Commons

Korolev had a chequered career. In 1938 he fell foul of the authorities and was arrested by the Soviet secret police, tried and sentenced to death. The sentence was reduced to imprisonment and he spent number of months in a Soviet gulag – a hard labour camp – in a remote part of Siberia. Conditions were extremely harsh and many prisoners died from cold, disease and sheer exhaustion.  Towards the end of the Second World War he was rehabilitated by the Soviet government and rose up the ranks in the 1950s to head the space programme. He died in Jan 1966 at the age of 59, his final years plagued by ill health caused by his time in the gulag.  In the 1950s and 1960s  the Soviet space programme was kept under intense secrecy and, unlike his American counterparts,  Korolev was unknown outside a small elite. His achievements were only made public after his death.

 

The Soyuz spacecraft, shown above, consists of three modules:

  • The first part of the spacecraft is the service module (labelled A). This contains the main engines, fuel, oxygen, computers, communications equipment and the solar panels used to generate electricity
  • The reentry capsule (labelled B) is shaped like a hemisphere and is the only part of the spacecraft which returns to Earth. The cosmonauts enter the capsule just before reentry. It is very cramped and is only designed for the crew to stay in for a short period of time. It does not, for instance, have a toilet.
  • The spherical-shaped orbital module (labelled C) is where the crew live during a mission, although  because all Soyuz missions  are at the moment to and from the ISS, astronauts only spend a short time there.

At launch the spacecraft sits on top of a 45 metre (150 feet) tall Soyuz rocket. The solar panels are folded away, and are unfolded when the spacecraft is in orbit.

Image from Wikimedia commons

As mentioned above, conditions in the reentry capsule are very cramped. It carries a crew of three squeezed into only 2.5 cubic metres of usable space. This is the volume of a cube measuring 1.36 by 1.36 by 1.36 metres. These cramped conditions meant that, in the early Soyuz spaceflights, the cosmonauts couldn’t wear bulky spacesuits and the associated life support equipment. This unfortunately lead to the deaths of the cosmonauts in the Soyuz 11 mission in 1971 who suffocated when a faulty valve caused all the air to escape from their capsule. Had they been wearing spacesuits they would have survived. After this accident Soyuz was redesigned to carry only two cosmonauts, both wearing spacesuits, although this was later increased back to three. The redesigned spacecraft was known as the Soyuz Ferry because its mission was to transport cosmonauts to and from the Salyut space station.

Over the last 50 years Soyuz has gone through several further updates and the latest version, known as Soyuz MS, was first launched in July 2016. The upgrades are mainly to computers, electronics and navigational systems and the internal layout of the spacecraft. The fundamental design hasn’t changed since Kamorov’s first flight back in 1967.

A safe and reliable way of getting into space.

Since 1971 there have been no fatalities on a Soyuz mission and the spacecraft has proven itself to be a safe, relatively cheap and reliable way of getting people to and from the International Space Station (ISS).  The recent failure was the first for 43 years and it important to emphasise that the  astronauts escaped unharmed.

In 2011 the cost of a flying a Space Shuttle mission to the ISS worked out at about $500 million in today’s money (NASA 2011). In contrast, the cost of using the older Soviet-era Soyuz technology worked out more than eight times cheaper at the equivalent of $60 million per mission (Wade 2016).

The table below shows the number of missions flown by the Apollo, Soyuz, Space Shuttle and Shenzou spacecraft.

Only manned missions are included. So, although the Shenzou spacecraft has gone into orbit 11 times only 6 of these missions had humans aboard.

 

NASA and Soyuz

NASA pays Russia $70 million per seat for each astronaut who flies in Soyuz (Wall 2013). This figure, which is roughly the same as the per seat cost of the Space Shuttle ($500 million for a crew of seven), enables the Russian space agency to make a significant profit.

However, NASA won’t be entirely reliant on buying seats on Soyuz for much longer.  As readers of my blog will know, rather than designing and building new craft to fly crew to and from the ISS, NASA administers a US-government funded programme called Commercial Crew Development (CCDev). After a lengthy evaluation process NASA announced on 16 September 2014 that Boeing and SpaceX had received contracts to provide crewed launch services to the ISS.

When the final decision was made, NASA hoped that the winning companies would be able to launch manned missions to the ISS by 2017. However, perhaps unsurprisingly, there have been numerous delays in the development of both spacecraft and the launch dates have slipped.

According to the current launch schedule (https://www.nasa.gov/launchschedule/ ), the target dates for unmanned test flights are:

  • ‘March 2019′  for Boeing CT100
  • ‘January 2019’ for SpaceX Dragon v2

However, it must be be pointed out that they are only target dates and it is possible that they will slip further.

If there are no further delays and these test flights do take place as planned and are successful, then in June 2019 the SpaceX Dragon v2 spacecraft will be the first American spacecraft to carry astronauts into orbit since the retirement of the Space Shuttle. This will be followed by the Boeing CT100, shown below, in August 2019.

DragonV2

 The Dragon V2 spacecraft – image from NASA 

Replacement of Soyuz

In the longer term Soyuz is due to be replaced in 2023 by a new spacecraft called Federation.  The design of Federation is still at the early stages but it will be capable of both low Earth orbit missions such as ferrying astronauts to and from the ISS and also missions deeper into space, such as orbiting the Moon (Nowakowski 2016).

Artist’s concept of the Federation spacecraft. image from  Roscosmos


I hope you have enjoyed this post. To find out more about the Science Geek’s blog, click here or at the Science Geek Home link at the top of this page.


Notes

1 The total includes all Soyuz missions which were launched with humans on board, including the two missions where the spacecraft failed to get into orbit.

2 After the last spaceflight to the Moon, there were 4 further Apollo spaceflights:

  • 3 to the Skylab space station in 1973 and 1974.
  • 1 joint mission with the Soviet Union known as Apollo-Soyuz in 1975.

3 The total of 135 Space Shuttle missions includes the ill fated Challenger mission in 1986 when the spacecraft broke apart 73 seconds after take off.

References

NASA (2011) How much does it cost to launch a Space Shuttle?, Available at:http://www.nasa.gov/centers/kennedy/about/information/shuttle_faq.html#1 (Accessed: 15 October 2017).

Nowakowski, T (2016) Russia runs first tests of its next-generation “Federation” manned spacecraft, Available at: http://www.spaceflightinsider.com/organizations/roscosmos/russia-runs-first-tests-of-its-next-generation-federation-manned-spacecraft/ (Accessed: 15 October 2018).

Wade, M. (2016) Cost, Price, and the Whole Darn Thing, Available at:http://www.astronautix.com/c/costpriceanholedarnthing.html (Accessed: 15 October 2018).

Wall, M (2013) NASA to pay $70 Million a seat to fly astronauts on Russian spacecraft,Available at: http://www.space.com/20897-nasa-russia-astronaut-launches-2017.html(Accessed: 25 April 2016).

The darker mornings

As I complete this post from my home in Manchester, England, it is 4:30 pm and already fairly dark outside. Many people think that it will continue to get dark earlier each day in the afternoon until we reach 21 December, the winter solstice. This, however, is not the case. The evenings in fact start to draw out a week or so before December 21, so it is already getting lighter in the evenings, although it does not start to get lighter in the mornings until early in the new year.

This post aims to explain this interesting phenomenon. (Those of you who have been following my blog for while and have a good memory may recall that I posted on this topic a couple of years ago 🙂 )

Sunrise and sunset in December

The table below shows the sunrise and sunset times for London for December at three day intervals.

 

In the table above, the daylight column shows the number of hours, minutes and seconds between sunrise and sunset. This clearly shows that 21 December has the shortest period of daylight, but while the time of sunrise continues to get later and later throughout the whole of December, the time of sunset stops getting earlier around 12 December.

The final column shows the solar noon, the time of day that the Sun is at its highest in the sky or, to put it another way, the mid-point between sunrise and sunset. The table shows that during December the solar noon drifts later by about 30 seconds each day.

Why does the solar noon shift ?

A solar day is the period of time between solar noon on one day and solar noon on the next day. The length of a solar day varies throughout the year. It is at its shortest, around 23 hours 59 minutes 38 seconds, in mid September and at its longest, around 24 hours 30 seconds around Christmas Day.

.

Day length

The graph shows the difference between the length of a solar day and its average value of 24 hours throughout the year.  For example, a value of 10 means a solar day is 24 hours 10 seconds long , 20 means a solar day is 24 hours 20 seconds long, and -10 means  a solar day is only 23 hours 59 minutes 50 seconds long.

As you can imagine, it would be complete chaos if our clocks and watches had to cope with days of different lengths, so we use 24 hours, the average over the whole year, for all timekeeping purposes.

So, in December solar days are on average 24 hours and 30 seconds in length, while our clocks and watches are still assuming that each day is exactly 24 hours.  This causes the day to shift about 30 seconds later each day,  as shown in the diagram below.  This explains why the evenings start drawing out before the shortest day, but it continues to get darker in the mornings until the new year.

 

Sunrise and sunset for London in December.

Why does the length of a solar day vary ?

The reason why the length of the solar day varies is due to two different factors.

  1. The fact that the Earth moves in an elliptical orbit around the Sun and its speed varies, being faster in earlier January, when it is closer to the Sun and slower in early July, when it is further away.
  2. The fact that the axis of the Earth’s rotation is tilted.

If you want to know more about how these  factors work together to vary the length of the solar day, see my post September 18 the Shortest Day.

What about the southern hemisphere ?

In the southern hemisphere 21 December is the summer solstice, the day with the most daylight. What happens is that the Sun starts rising later before December 21, but it doesn’t start getting dark earlier in the evening until well after December 21. This is illustrated in the table below, which shows the sunrise and sunset times for December for Wellington in New Zealand, which lies at a latitude of roughly 41 degrees South.

 

Final note

It is not strictly true to say that a solar day is on average exactly 24 hours long.  As readers of a previous post,  “The Days are Getting Longer’, will be aware the Moon is gradually getting further away from the Earth. In fact, equipment left on the Moon by the Apollo astronauts has confirmed that the average distance from the Earth to the Moon is increasing by about 4 cm a year.

Aldrin_Apollo_11

-Image from NASA

As the Moon gradually saps energy from the Earth, the Earth’s rotation slows down, causing the length of a day to get gradually longer. In the year 1900 a mean solar day was 24 hours long. Now, in the early 21st century, a mean solar day is actually 24 hours 0.002 seconds long. To prevent the time we measure using accurate clocks from drifting away from the solar time we need to add an second called a leap second roughly every 18 months.

 

 

The early days of the space race

In my previous post I talked about two significant successes for the Soviet Union in 1957: the first artificial satellite in orbit in October and the first living creature, a dog named Laika, in orbit in November. In December of that year the Americans had a humiliating failure when the Vanguard spacecraft exploded in a massive fireball on the launch pad.

Vanguard TV-3 a few seconds after launch

To boost American prestige and to show the American public that the US wasn’t falling further behind the Soviets, it was important that America get a satellite into orbit as soon as possible. They achieved this when Explorer 1 went into orbit on 1 February 1958.

Explorer 1- Image from NASA

Explorer 1 had a payload of numerous science instruments designed under the direction of James Van Allen (1914-2006), a space scientist at the University of Iowa. It made the discovery that the Earth is surrounded by a belt of electrically charged particles trapped in its magnetic field.  The radiation in these belts is so intense that the readings from the Geiger counter on the spacecraft went off the scale when it passed through them. The belts are invisible to telescopes on Earth which is why they had not been detected previously. Today, in honour of Van Allen, they are known as the Van Allen radiation belts.

The Van Allen radiation belts

Explorer 1, like the Soviet Sputnik 1 and 2 spacecraft, had no solar cells to generate its own electricity. Electrical power came from a non-rechargeable battery. Three and a half months after launch, the battery ran out of charge so the spacecraft couldn’t transmit or receive signals and its instruments stopped working. However, Explorer 1 continued to orbit the Earth as a ‘dead’ satellite for much longer than Sputnik 1 or 2, for reasons which can be seen in the diagram below.

Only Sputnik 1 shown, Sputnik-2 had a similar orbit

As shown above, Explorer 1 was placed in a much higher orbit than Sputnik 1 and 2. At its closest approach it was 358 km above the surface of the Earth and its furthest 2,550 km. The higher a spacecraft’s orbit, the longer it remains in space because the traces of atmosphere which slow it down by friction are much less. Therefore, even though it couldn’t transmit any signals back to Earth, Explorer 1 remained in orbit until March 1970. This was over 12 years after its initial launch, whereas the Sputniks survived in space for around 4 months.

After the success of Explorer 1, the Americans successfully launched 4 other spacecraft into orbit in 1958. However, there were also 18 launch failures, meaning that nearly 80% of American launches in 1958 failed to get into orbit.

Luna 1, 2 and 3

Despite the American successes in 1958, the next big advances in space exploration were all made in 1959 by the Soviet Union. In January 1959 the Soviets launched Luna 1.  This was the first ever spacecraft to reach escape velocity, a speed high enough to enable it to escape from the Earth’s gravity altogether. It flew 6,000 km above the Moon’s surface and during its journey provided direct measurement of the solar wind, a stream of electrically charged particles coming from the Sun. Luna 1 didn’t have a camera, so was unable to send back any pictures of the Moon, but its instruments made the discovery that, unlike the Earth, the Moon has no magnetic field. Interestingly, Luna 1 was actually intended to hit the Moon’s surface but it missed its target due to a navigational error (Zak 2016) so, after passing the Moon, it went into orbit around the Sun, where it remains to this day.

Since 1959 Luna has been orbiting the Sun in an orbit which lies mainly between the Earth and Mars

Luna 2 was launched in September 1959 and this time succeeded in crash landing onto the Moon, becoming the first ever spacecraft to land on another celestial body. This again was a massive propaganda coup for the Soviets.  It even boosted the reputation of the Communist system as a whole, according to some writers of the day: only a successful and thriving country could achieve such great scientific feats.  Although their system couldn’t deliver the same level of material wealth for its citizens as free market capitalism, in 1959 the Soviets were ahead of America in space technology. It would not be until 1964 that America would successfully crash land a spacecraft on the Moon (see notes).

Even more exciting, however, was Luna 3. In October of the same year it became the first ever spacecraft to take pictures of the far side of the Moon, which had never before been seen from Earth and had remained an enigma throughout history.

Luna 3’s images  caused immense excitement around the world. These and subsequent pictures showed that the far side looks very different from the near side. It has a battered, heavily cratered appearance with a relatively small portion of its surface covered by the smooth dark areas (known as seas, or the Latin word maria).

Near and far sides of the Moon

The near and far sides of the Moon (image from NASA)

The greatest leap of all in the early days of space exploration came 18 months later. On 21 April 1961, a Vostok spacecraft containing cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin (1934-1968) launched successfully, performed a single orbit of the Earth, and safely landed 108 minutes later. This was a massive propaganda triumph for the Soviet Union and Gagarin, an air force pilot, became instantly famous throughout the world.

Yuri Gagarin – image from Wikimedia Commons

The American reaction to Gagarin’s flight was swift. A month later President John F Kennedy made the following address to the United States Congress:

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important in the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

Kennedy_May61

President J F Kennedy giving his address on 25 May 1961 – Image from NASA

This was an incredibly ambitious goal, given that in May 1961 America had not yet even placed a man in orbit. Nevertheless, Kennedy was advised that, given sufficient investment by the richest country in the world, a manned landing could be achieved before 1970. There was a good chance that the Soviets simply would not have the money to develop the new spacecraft and technologies required for this incredible leap forward.

So, the American government funded the largest commitment every undertaken by a nation in peacetime. At its peak the programme employed nearly half a million people and its total cost in today’s money was around $180 billion.

All this effort came to successful fruition on July 20 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first human beings to land on the Moon. When Armstrong stepped out of the spacecraft he said the immortal words:

That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

The Americans had won the space race.

Apollo 11 Astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the Moon – image from NASA

 

Notes

Actually, this is not strictly true.  Ranger 4 crashed on the far side of the Moon in April 1962, thus becoming the first American spacecraft to land on another celestial body. However, due a computer malfunction, it returned no scientific data. The first American probe to land successfully at its planned landing site and send data was Ranger 7 in July 1964.

References

Zak, A (2016) USSR launches the first artificial planet.  Available at: http://www.russianspaceweb.com/luna1.html (Accessed: 30 September 2017).

Soyuz 50 years on

On 23 April 1967, six years after Yuri Gagarin had became the first man to go into space, a Soviet Soyuz spacecraft was launched carrying cosmonaut Vladimir Komorov. It completed 18 orbits and then returned to Earth.

Mission patch for the first Soyuz mission

Sadly, during its reentry the parachute failed to open properly and the spacecraft was destroyed when it hit the Earth at high speed and burst into flames – killing Komorov and giving him the unfortunate distinction of being the first person to die in space flight.

Despite this initial setback, the Soyuz spacecraft was successfully flown back into space the following year, when cosmonaut Georgy Beregovoy, a decorated World War 2 hero, completed 81 orbits and landed safely.

A Soviet 10 kopek stamp showing  Georgy Beregovoy. The Soyuz rocket is in the background – image from Wikimedia commons

Since Beregovoy’s mission, Soyuz has been launched into space a further 131 times, and has proved to be a great success, outliving the much more expensive and more technologically advanced Space Shuttle. It has established itself to be a reliable and safe way of getting into Earth orbit.  In fact, since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011, it has been the only way of getting astronauts to and from the International Space Station. This is a fact worth bearing in mind given the somewhat tense relationship between Russia and the West.

The spacecraft

The Soyuz spacecraft was designed in the Soviet Union in the early 1960s. The chief designer was a man called Sergei Korolev (1907-1966), who was the driving force behind many of the early successes in the Soviet space programme.

Korolev in 1956 – image from Wikimedia Commons

Korolev had a chequered career. In 1938 he fell foul of the authorities and was arrested by the Soviet secret police, tried and sentenced to death. The sentence was reduced to imprisonment and he spent number of months in a Soviet gulag – a hard labour camp – in a remote part of Siberia. Conditions were extremely harsh and many prisoners died from cold, disease and sheer exhaustion.  Towards the end of the Second World War he was rehabilitated by the Soviet government and later rose up the ranks in the 1950s to head the space programme. He died in Jan 1966 at the age of 59, his final years plagued by ill health caused by his time in the gulag. The 1950s and 1960s were during the Cold War and the Soviet space programme was kept under intense secrecy and, unlike his American counterparts,  Korolev was unknown outside a small elite. His achievements were only made public after his death.

 

The Soyuz spacecraft, shown above, consists of three modules:

  • The first part of the spacecraft is the service module (labelled A). This contains the main engines, fuel, oxygen, computers, communications equipment and the solar panels used to generate electricity
  • The reentry capsule (labelled B) is shaped like a hemisphere and is the only part of the spacecraft which returns to Earth. The cosmonauts enter the capsule just before reentry. It is very cramped and is only designed for the crew to stay in for a short period of time. It does not, for instance, have a toilet.
  • The spherical-shaped orbital module (labelled C) is where the crew live during a mission, although all Soyuz missions at the moment are to and from the International Space Station.

At launch the spacecraft sits on top of a 45 metre (150 feet) tall Soyuz rocket. The solar panels are folded away, and are unfolded when the spacecraft is in orbit.

Image from Wikimedia commons

As mentioned above, conditions in the reentry capsule are very cramped. It carries a crew of three squeezed into only 2.5 cubic metres of usable space. This is the volume of a cube measuring 1.36 by 1.36 by 1.36 metres. These cramped conditions meant that, in the early Soyuz spaceflights, the cosmonauts couldn’t wear bulky spacesuits and the associated life support equipment. This unfortunately lead to the deaths of the cosmonauts in the Soyuz 11 mission in 1971 who suffocated when a faulty valve caused all the air to escape from their capsule. Had they been wearing spacesuits they would have survived. After this accident Soyuz was redesigned to carry two cosmonauts, both wearing spacesuits, although this was later increased to three. The redesigned spacecraft was known as the Soyuz Ferry because its mission was to transport cosmonauts to and from the Salyut space station.

Over the last 50 years Soyuz has gone through several further updates and the latest version, known as Soyuz MS, was first launched in July 2016. The upgrades are mainly to computers, electronics and navigational systems and the internal layout of the spacecraft. The fundamental design hasn’t changed since Kamorov’s first flight back in 1967.

A cheap and reliable way of getting into space.

Since the accident in 1971 there have been no fatalities aboard a Soyuz and the spacecraft has proven itself to be a relatively cheap and reliable way of getting people to and from the International Space Station (ISS). In 2011 the cost of a flying a Space Shuttle mission to the ISS worked out at about $500 million in today’s money (NASA 2011). In contrast, the cost of using the older Soviet-era Soyuz technology worked out more than eight times cheaper at the equivalent of $60 million per mission (Wade 2016).

The table below shows the number of missions flown by the Apollo, Soyuz, Space Shuttle and Shenzou spacecraft. Only manned missions are included. So, although the Shenzou spacecraft has gone into orbit 11 times only 6 of these missions had humans aboard.

The table below lists the launch dates of the next four Soyuz missions:

Data from http://spaceflight101.com/iss/iss-calendar/

When Soyuz MS-07 is launched in the coming October, it will have flown more manned missions than the Space Shuttle.

The Future

NASA pays Russia $70 million per seat for each astronaut who flies in Soyuz (Wall 2013). This figure, which is roughly the same as the per seat cost of the Space Shuttle ($500 million for a crew of seven) enables the Russian space agency to make a significant profit.

However, NASA won’t be entirely reliant on buying seats on Soyuz for much longer. Rather than itself building a new craft to fly crew to and from the ISS, NASA administers a US-government funded programme called Commercial Crew Development (CCDev). After a lengthy evaluation process NASA announced on 16 September 2014 that Boeing and SpaceX had received contracts to provide crewed launch services to the ISS.

At the moment there is no confirmed date when these companies will send their spacecraft to the ISS. The SpaceX website states that the first crewed flight by their Dragon V2 spacecraft will be in the second quarter of 2018, although this date seems somewhat ambitious given that the spacecraft has not yet flown and that an unmanned test flight is only due to be carried out in November 2017.

DragonV2

 The Dragon V2 spacecraft – image from NASA 

In the longer term Soyuz is due to be replaced in 2023 by a new spacecraft called Federation.  The design of Federation is still at the early stages but it will be capable of both low Earth orbit missions such as ferrying astronauts to and from the ISS and also missions deeper into space, such as orbiting the Moon (Nowakowski 2016).

Artist’s concept of the Federation spacecraft. image from  Roscosmos

 

Notes

1 The total of 133 spaceflights includes all Soyuz missions which were launched with humans on board, whether or not the spacecraft went into orbit. The number of spaceflights by each version of the spacecraft are as follows:

  • First generation Soyuz  launched 10 times between Apr 1967 and Jun 1971.
  • Soyuz Ferry launched 30 times between Sep 1973 and May 1981. This number includes one launch where the spacecraft failed to get into orbit.
  • Soyuz T launched 14 times between Jun 1980 and Mar 1986.  This figure excludes an attempted launch where the rocket exploded just before it should have taken off and from which the cosmonauts safely escaped.
  • Soyuz TM launched 33 times between Feb 1987 and April 2002.
  • Soyuz TMA launched 22 times between Oct 2002 and Nov 2011.
  • Soyuz TMA-M launched 20 times between Oct 2010 and Mar 2016.
  • The latest incarnation of the spacecraft, Soyuz MS, was first launched in July 2016 and has been launched 4 times so far.

2 After the last spaceflight to the Moon, there were 4 further Apollo spaceflights:

  • 3 to the Skylab space station in 1973 and 1974.
  • 1 joint mission with the Soviet Union known as Apollo-Soyuz in 1975.

3 The total of 135 Space Shuttle missions includes the ill fated Challenger mission in 1986 when the spacecraft broke apart 73 seconds after take off.

References

NASA (2011) How much does it cost to launch a Space Shuttle?, Available at:http://www.nasa.gov/centers/kennedy/about/information/shuttle_faq.html#1 (Accessed: 9 Apr 2017).

Nowakowski, T (2016) Russia runs first tests of its next-generation “Federation” manned spacecraft, Available at: http://www.spaceflightinsider.com/organizations/roscosmos/russia-runs-first-tests-of-its-next-generation-federation-manned-spacecraft/ (Accessed: 26 April 2017).

Wade, M. (2016) Cost, Price, and the Whole Darn Thing, Available at:http://www.astronautix.com/c/costpriceanholedarnthing.html (Accessed: 10 Apr 2017).

Wall, M (2013) NASA to pay $70 Million a seat to fly astronauts on Russian spacecraft,Available at: http://www.space.com/20897-nasa-russia-astronaut-launches-2017.html(Accessed: 25 April 2016).

20 July 1969 The First Men on the Moon

It has been a very exciting week for space exploration with the pictures sent from New Horizons as it flew past Pluto on Tuesday. Monday next week  (20-th July) marks the 46-th anniversary of the first landing on men on the Moon, which was one of the iconic events of the last century. To celebrate this anniversary I have decided to re-blog my post from July last year marking this momentous occasion.

Apollo_program_insignia

The Mission Insignia of Apollo 11- Image from NASA

 

Background

On 21 May 1961 President John F Kennedy made the following address to the United States Congress:

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important in the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

Kennedy_May61

President J F Kennedy giving his address on May 25 1961- Image from NASA

At the time, which was in the middle of the cold war between the West and the Soviet bloc, the Soviet Union had a clear lead in space exploration and had achieved three notable firsts:

  • The first satellite in orbit, Sputnik 1, in October 1957
  • The first spacecraft to photograph the far side of the Moon, Lunik 3, in October 1959
  • The first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, in April 1961.

By achieving this goal of landing a man on the moon, which was incredibly ambitious given that in May 1961 America had not yet place a man in orbit, the United States would show to the whole world that it had gained supremacy over the Soviet Union in space exploration.

Why the Moon?

The Moon is our nearest neighbour in space, and Kennedy was advised that, given sufficient investment by the richest country in the world, a manned landing could be be achieved before 1970. There was also a good chance that, given the amount of resources needed to develop and test the new technologies needed, the Soviets would not be able to do it by this date.  The Soviet Union simply could not afford to spend so much money in such a short time.

The American Manned Space Program (1961 to 1969)

To achieve Kennedy’s goal, the American government funded the largest commitment every undertaken by a nation in peacetime. At its peak the programme employed nearly half a million people and its total cost (in 2016 dollars) was around $175 billion.

Apollo 11 Mission July 1969

All this effort came to successful fruition on July 20 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to land on the moon. When Armstrong stepped out of the spacecraft he said the immortal words:

That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

The event was shown on live TV to a worldwide audience of over 1 billion, almost a third of the population of the Earth at that time.  As a young child I was one of those billion people but not Mrs Geek, as it was past her bedtime (she was five years old).

 

Aldrin_Apollo_11

Apollo 11 Astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the Moon -Image from NASA

The astronauts planted the United States flag on the lunar surface in view of the TV camera. Some time later, President Richard Nixon spoke to them through a telephone-radio transmission which Nixon called “the most historic phone call ever made from the White House.”

In total the astronauts spent 2.5 hours on the lunar surface, during which time they gathered around 25 kg of moon rock. These samples would be studied by scientists over the forthcoming years and would provide new insights into the origin of the Moon.

They left behind on the Moon’s surface scientific instruments that included an array of mirrors  used to calculate the distance between the Moon and the Earth, and a seismometer used to measure moon quakes.

On their return to Earth, the astronauts were treated as heroes – but they also had to spend three weeks in quarantine, just in case they had picked up any strange and potentially dangerous diseases on in the Moon.

Apollo 11 in quarantine

The Apollo 11 astronauts in quarantine after their return to Earth – Image from NASA

After they had emerged from quarantine they went on a world tour in September and October 1969, and met many prominent leaders, such as Queen Elizabeth II.

Subsequent  Missions

After Apollo 11 there were five further successful missions to the Moon (Apollos 12,14, 15, 16 and 17) plus one unsuccessful mission Apollo 13, which you may well know about from the Hollywood movie of the same name. The diagram below shows all the Apollo landing sites.

Apollo Landing Sites

 

The Apollo landing sites (Image from Soerfm)

All the landings were on the near side, as it would have been far too risky to land on the far side of the Moon, where they would have been out of direct contact from the Earth.

The later missions involved the astronauts having progressively longer and  longer stays on the Moon.  For the final mission, Apollo 17, the astronauts stayed on the surface for three days and performed three separate moonwalks.

During the final three missions the astronauts used an electric-powered moon buggy to allow them to travel longer distances on the Moon – about twenty miles away from the lunar module – and thus gather rock samples from more varied sites.

Lunar Rover

The Lunar Rover or “Moon Buggy” – Image from NASA

The End of the Apollo Program

After the successful landing of Apollo 11, watched by such a huge proportion of Earth’s inhabitants, public interest in the Moon program started to wane and the US government  quickly came under pressure to reduce the spending on manned space exploration. The last three Apollo missions which should have taken place in 1973 and 1974 were cancelled.

Another victim of the spending cuts was the Moon base, which NASA had been hoping to build on the Moon in around 1980. This Moon base would gradually be extended, over the following years and decades, until it became a fully fledged lunar colony. The intention was that one day people would actually live on the Moon, but these plans were brought to a halt in the early 1970s, purely because of the cost.  Not only that, but for the last 43 years no astronaut has ventured more than a few hundred miles above the surface of the Earth.

 

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Artist’s impression of a moon base -Image from NASA

When will humans next go to the moon ?

I think it is unlikely that the next astronauts to set foot on the Moon will be from America. NASA has no plans to go to the Moon within the next decade, because there is little political will or drive to do it.  It is unlikely that Congress would provide the funding, especially as NASA is already committed to supporting the International Space Station until at least 2020, which will reduce the money available for other manned space missions.

I think the next humans to set foot on the Moon will be from China, in around the year 2025. China has its own ambitious manned space programme, and has recently landed an unmanned probe on the Moon, which is exploring the Moon as I am writing this post.

In fact, there is so much to say about Chinese plans to explore space that I dealt with this in a separate post “Chinese Manned Spaceflight”.

 

 

45th Anniversary of first Men on the Moon

Welcome

On Sunday (20th July) it is the 45th anniversary of the first manned Moon landing. To commemorate this. I thought that I’d re-post my article from 4th June which discussed the first Moon landings. I hope you enjoy reading or re-reading it.

My next article, which I will post next week, will be on the subject of space tourism.

Background

On 21 May 1961 President John F Kennedy made the following address to the United States Congress:

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important in the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

Kennedy_May61

President J F Kennedy giving his address on May 25 1961- Image from NASA

At the time, which was in the middle of the cold war between the West and the Soviet bloc, the Soviet Union had a clear lead in space exploration and had achieved three notable firsts:

  • The first satellite in orbit, Sputnik 1, in October 1957
  • The first spacecraft to photograph the far side of the Moon, Lunik 3, in October 1959
  • The first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, in April 1961.

By achieving this goal of landing a man on the moon, which was incredibly ambitious given that in May 1961 America has not yet place a man in orbit, the United States would show to the whole world that it had gained supremacy over the Soviet Union in space exploration.

Why the Moon?

The Moon is our nearest neighbour in space, and Kennedy was advised that, given sufficient investment by the richest country in the world, a manned landing could be be achieved before 1970. There was also a good chance that, given the amount of resources needed to develop and test the new technologies needed, the Soviets would not be able to do it by this date.  The Soviet Union simply could not afford to spend so much money in such a short time.

The American Manned Space Program (1961 to 1969)

To achieve Kennedy’s goal, the American government funded the largest commitment every undertaken by a nation in peacetime. At its peak the programme employed nearly half a million people and its total cost (in 2014 dollars) was around $130 billion.

Apollo 11 Mission July 1969

All this effort came to successful fruition on July 20 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to land on the moon. When Armstrong stepped out of the spacecraft he said the immortal words:

That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

The event was shown on live TV to a worldwide audience of over 1 billion, almost a third of the population of the Earth at that time.  As a young child I was one of those billion people but not Mrs Geek, as it was past her bedtime (she was five years old).

 

Aldrin_Apollo_11

Apollo 11 Astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the Moon -Image from NASA

The astronauts planted the United States flag on the lunar surface in view of the TV camera. Some time later, President Richard Nixon spoke to them through a telephone-radio transmission which Nixon called “the most historic phone call ever made from the White House.”

In total the astronauts spent 2.5 hours on the lunar surface, during which time they gathered around 25 kg of moon rock. These samples would be studied by scientists over the forthcoming years and would provide new insights into the origin of the Moon.

They left behind on the Moon’s surface scientific instruments that included an array of mirrors  used to calculate the distance between the Moon and the Earth, and a seismometer used to measure moon quakes.

On their return to Earth, the astronauts were treated as heroes – but they also had to spend three weeks in quarantine, just in case they had picked up any strange and potentially dangerous diseases on in the Moon.  After that they went on a world tour in September and October, and met many prominent leaders, such as Queen Elizabeth II.

Subsequent  Missions

After Apollo 11 there were five further successful missions to the Moon (Apollos 12,14, 15, 16 and 17) plus one unsuccessful mission Apollo 13, which you may well know about from the Hollywood movie of the same name. The diagram below shows all the Apollo landing sites.

Apollo Landing Sites

 

The Apollo landing sites (Image from Soerfm)

All the landings were on the near side, as it would have been far too risky to land on the far side of the Moon, where they would have been out of direct contact from the Earth.

The later missions involved the astronauts having progressively longer and  longer stays on the Moon.  For the final mission, Apollo 17, the astronauts stayed on the surface for three days and performed three separate moonwalks.

During the final three missions the astronauts used an electric-powered moon buggy to allow them to travel longer distances on the Moon – about twenty miles away from the lunar module – and thus gather rock samples from more varied sites.

Lunar Rover

The Lunar Rover or “Moon Buggy” -Image from NASA

The End of the Apollo Program

After the successful landing of Apollo 11, watched by such a huge proportion of Earth’s inhabitants, public interest in the Moon program started to wane and the US government  quickly came under pressure to reduce the spending on manned space exploration. The last three Apollo missions which should have taken place in 1973 and 1974 were cancelled.

Another victim of the spending cuts was the Moon base, which NASA had been hoping to build on the Moon in around 1980. This Moon base would gradually be extended, over the following years and decades, until it became a fully fledged lunar colony. The intention was that one day people would actually live on the Moon, but these plans were brought to a halt in the early 1970s, purely because of the cost.  Not only that, but for the last 42 years no astronaut has ventured more than a few hundred miles above the surface of the Earth.

 

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Artist’s impression of a moon base -Image from NASA

When will humans next go to the moon ?

I think it is unlikely that the next astronauts to set foot on the Moon will be from America. NASA has no plans to go to the Moon within the next decade, because there is little political will or drive to do it.  It is unlikely that Congress would provide the funding, especially as NASA is already committed to supporting the International Space Station until at least 2020, which will reduce the money available for other manned space missions.

I think the next humans to set foot on the Moon will be from China, in around the year 2025. China has its own ambitious manned space programme, and has recently landed an unmanned probe on the Moon, which is exploring the Moon as I am writing this post.

In fact, there is so much to say about Chinese plans to explore space that I dealt with this in a separate post “Chinese Manned Spaceflight” which was posted on 16 June 2014.

 

 

Manned Missions to the Moon

Welcome

Welcome to the latest post from the Science Geek. This post, which is part of a series on the Moon, discusses manned exploration of the Moon.  I hope you enjoy reading it and, as always, please let me know if you have any comments.

I would also like, once again, to thank Mrs Geek without whose editing the blog would be full of typos and poor grammar.

Background

On 21 May 1961 President John F Kennedy made the following address to the United States Congress:

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important in the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

Kennedy_May61

President J F Kennedy giving his address on May 25 1961- Image from NASA

At the time, which was in the middle of the cold war between the West and the Soviet bloc, the Soviet Union had a clear lead in space exploration and had achieved three notable firsts:

  • The first satellite in orbit, Sputnik 1, in October 1957
  • The first spacecraft to photograph the far side of the Moon, Lunik 3, in October 1959
  • The first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, in April 1961.

By achieving this goal of landing a man on the moon, which was incredibly ambitious given that in May 1961 America has not yet place a man in orbit, the United States would show to the whole world that it had gained supremacy over the Soviet Union in space exploration.

Why the Moon?

The Moon is our nearest neighbour in space, and Kennedy was advised that, given sufficient investment by the richest country in the world, a manned landing could be be achieved before 1970. There was also a good chance that, given the amount of resources needed to develop and test the new technologies needed, the Soviets would not be able to do it by this date.  The Soviet Union simply could not afford to spend so much money in such a short time.

The American Manned Space Program (1961 to 1969)

To achieve Kennedy’s goal, the American government funded the largest commitment every undertaken by a nation in peacetime. At its peak the programme employed nearly half a million people and its total cost (in 2014 dollars) was around $130 billion.

Apollo 11 Mission July 1969

All this effort came to successful fruition on July 20 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to land on the moon. When Armstrong stepped out of the spacecraft he said the immortal words:

That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

The event was shown on live TV to a worldwide audience of over 1 billion, almost a third of the population of the Earth at that time.  As a young child I was one of those billion people but not Mrs Geek, as it was past her bedtime (she was five years old).

Aldrin_Apollo_11

Apollo 11 Astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the Moon -Image from NASA

The astronauts planted the United States flag on the lunar surface in view of the TV camera. Some time later, President Richard Nixon spoke to them through a telephone-radio transmission which Nixon called “the most historic phone call ever made from the White House.”

In total the astronauts spent 2.5 hours on the lunar surface, during which time they gathered around 25 kg of moon rock. These samples would be studied by scientists over the forthcoming years and would provide new insights into the origin of the Moon.

They left behind on the Moon’s surface scientific instruments that included an array of mirrors  used to calculate the distance between the Moon and the Earth, and a seismometer used to measure moon quakes.

On their return to Earth, the astronauts were treated as heroes – but they also had to spend three weeks in quarantine, just in case they had picked up any strange and potentially dangerous diseases on in the Moon.  After that they went on a world tour in September and October, and met many prominent leaders, such as Queen Elizabeth II.

Subsequent  Missions

After Apollo 11 there were five further successful missions to the Moon (Apollos 12,14, 15, 16 and 17) plus one unsuccessful mission Apollo 13, which you may well know about from the Hollywood movie of the same name. The diagram below shows all the Apollo landing sites.

Apollo Landing Sites

The Apollo landing sites (Image from Soerfm)

All the landings were on the near side, as it would have been far too risky to land on the far side of the Moon, where they would have been out of direct contact from the Earth.

The later missions involved the astronauts having progressively longer and  longer stays on the Moon.  For the final mission, Apollo 17, the astronauts stayed on the surface for three days and performed three separate moonwalks.

During the final three missions the astronauts used an electric-powered moon buggy to allow them to travel longer distances on the Moon – about twenty miles away from the lunar module – and thus gather rock samples from more varied sites.

Lunar Rover

The Lunar Rover or “Moon Buggy” -Image from NASA

The End of the Apollo Program

After the successful landing of Apollo 11, watched by such a huge proportion of Earth’s inhabitants, public interest in the Moon program started to wane and the US government  quickly came under pressure to reduce the spending on manned space exploration. The last three Apollo missions which should have taken place in 1973 and 1974 were cancelled.

Another victim of the spending cuts was the Moon base, which NASA had been hoping to build on the Moon in around 1980. This Moon base would gradually be extended, over the following years and decades, until it became a fully fledged lunar colony. The intention was that one day people would actually live on the Moon, but these plans were brought to a halt in the early 1970s, purely because of the cost.  Not only that, but for the last 42 years no astronaut has ventured more than a few hundred miles above the surface of the Earth.

 

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Artist’s impression of a moon base -Image from NASA

When will humans next go to the moon ?

I think it is unlikely that the next astronauts to set foot on the Moon will be from America. NASA has no plans to go to the Moon within the next decade, because there is little political will or drive to do it.  It is unlikely that Congress would provide the funding, especially as NASA is already committed to supporting the International Space Station until at least 2020, which will reduce the money available for other manned space missions.

I think the next humans to set foot on the Moon will be from China, in around the year 2025. China has its own ambitious manned space programme, and has recently landed an unmanned probe on the Moon, which is exploring the Moon as I am writing this post.

In fact, there is so much to say about Chinese plans to explore space that I will deal with this in far more detail in my next post.