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NASA Will Buy More Soyuz Seats for US, Canadian, European & Japanese Astronauts

Posted February 9, 2015 by Chuck Black
          By Brian Orlotti

The Soyuz spacecraft. Image c/o William Self/ The Plain Dealer.

NASA has issued a statement saying that it intends to purchase six seats on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to carry US, Canadian, European and Japanese astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) and back to Earth in 2018.

NASA said that the new Soyuz purchase is a contingency in the event that commercial space vehicles now in development are delayed.

As outlined in the February 6th, 2015 Space News article, “NASA Issues Sole Source Notice for Six Soyuz Seats,” the announcement was received with mixed emotions.

Given the current maturity level of the commercial vehicles and the 3-year procurement lead time for Soyuz crew transportation services, NASA must contract for Soyuz now in order to assure uninterrupted access to ISS in CY 2018,” NASA said in its statement. 
Under the terms of its last contract with Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), Soyuz seats cost approximately $76Mln USD ($94.77Mln CDN) each.
Boeing and SpaceX are currently developing spacecraft (Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Dragon/Dragon V2) to carry astronauts to the ISS on a commercial basis. The first flights of these vehicles are scheduled for late 2017.
Boeing CST 100 and Space Dragon V2. Graphic c/o Space.com.

Although space enthusiasts may be discouraged by this extended astronaut downtime, it is helpful to remember that similar lulls have occurred before. Canadian astronauts experienced an 8-year gap between Marc Garneau’s 1984 mission and Roberta Bondar’s 1992 flight. US astronauts had a 6-year gap between 1975’s Apollo-Soyuz Test Project and 1981’s first Space Shuttle flight.

Brian Orlotti.
And when astronauts do resume their travels, it will be aboard new ships built by new players in a new paradigm for the industry. 
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Brian Orlotti is a network operations centre analyst at Shomi, a Canadian provider of on-demand internet streaming media and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

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Preliminary Results from 3D Printing Experiments Onboard the ISS

Posted February 3, 2015 by Chuck Black
          By Brian Orlotti

Made in Space (MIS), a Silicon Valley-based start-up that built a zero-gravity 3D printer installed on the International Space Station (ISS) four months ago, says the first set of objects is complete and the preliminary results are good.

Graphic showing the parts that were printed as part of the 3D printing in zero gravity technology demonstration. Graphic c/o Made in Space.

According to a Jan 27th, 2015 Made in Space blog post, “3D Printing In Space: Four Months In,” the printer created fourteen unique objects over the course of the experiment.

These ranged from objects designed to test the printer’s accuracy at creating features like holes and overhangs, to a part for the 3D printer itself (a faceplate), to an actual working tool: a small ratchet. The ratchet’s design file was even emailed to the ISS to be printed; the first time in history that this has been done in space.

The printed objects will be brought back to Earth later this year and sent to the NASA Marshall Space Flight Centre in Alabama for analysis and stress testing.

The use of 3D printing technology in space, though still in its earliest stage, is poised to make a big impact. Space-based 3D printers would give astronauts the ability to manufacture tools and components on-site without needing to bring them along, with significant savings on space, weight and fuel.

In addition, the ability to manufacture objects in space would give astronauts greater options in unforeseen situations like malfunctions and accidents. In a sign of the technology’s potential, the US Navy is also experimenting with 3D printers, installing them on combat ships to see if they can be used to produce tools, components and weapons.

MIS was founded in August 2010 by Aaron Kemmer, Jason Dunn, Mike Chen, and Michael Snyder, who all met while taking part in the graduate studies program at Singularity University (SU), a private, unaccredited learning institution/space start-up accelerator located at the NASA Ames Research Centre in Moffett Field, California.

Also located at Moffett Field, MIS was one of the first startups to emerge from SU. MIS’ goal is “enabling humanity’s future in space,” by developing additive manufacturing (i.e. 3D printing) technology for use in the space environment. By creating an additive manufacturing capability in space, MIS seeks to accelerate and expand space development.

The emailing of an object to a space station for manufacture in orbit, which would have seemed the most Star Trekkian of fantasies 20 years ago, is now reality.

Brian Orlotti.
In the coming decades, we might gaze in wonder at 3D-printed solar arrays, space stations and spaceships; more science fiction marvels brought to life.
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Brian Orlotti is a network operations centre analyst at Shomi, a Canadian provider of on-demand internet streaming media and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

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Canadian Space Company UrtheCast is Hiring

Posted January 26, 2015 by Chuck Black

          By Chuck BlackBC based UrtheCast is opening new offices and hiring new people. The firm has announced plans to open a second office in Vancouver able to house up to 40 video specialists, GIS experts, web dev…

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