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NASA Enlists Private Space Industry to Break Reliance on Russian Rockets

Published: August 24, 2014 (Issue # 1825)



  • The Dragon V2 spacecraft is one of the prime contenders for the NASA contract.
    Photo: SpaceX

Within weeks, NASA is expected to award a multibillion-dollar contract for the development of spacecraft by private U.S. space companies, severing the agency's dependence on Russia's Soyuz rocket for transporting astronauts to the International Space Station, or ISS.

Since NASA retired its fleet of space shuttles in 2011, the Russian Soyuz rocket has been the only means of transporting American astronauts to ISS — a dependency that has come into sharp focus as tensions flare over the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

Under its current contract, NASA pays Russia $62.7 million a seat for transport to ISS, a $150 billion, 15 nation project largely co-managed by the U.S. and Russia. NASA recently signed a new contract for 2016-2017 at a price of $70 million a seat aboard the Soyuz.

In a drive to free NASA's budget and efforts from building its own vehicle to reach the space station, U.S. President Barack Obama's administration in 2009 began pushing the agency to seed the budding private space sector with funding to build its own vehicles.

Known as the Commercial Crew Program, the contest has been narrowed down to three contenders: SpaceX, Sierra Nevada and Boeing, who are now vying for funding to complete development of their vehicles.

Outsourcing to private companies may cut costs significantly. One of the leading contenders for the NASA contract, SpaceX, says that it can carry astronauts to space for $20 million a seat.

The program is now about to enter a critical phase. In late August or early September, NASA will distribute a new round of funding to complete the final stages of development for one or more of the vehicles. It is not yet known how much will be granted, or to whom, but there is a strong chance all three will receive funding to continue their work.

Upon completion of the commercial crew program, NASA will rent the winners' services rather than buying their vehicles, ostensibly opening an entirely new segment of the commercial space market in which foreign governments or private citizens and organizations could buy rides into space as well.

However, NASA officials told The St. Petersburg Times that they do not expect the program to spell an end to U.S. astronauts flying on Soyuz. One of the cornerstones of U.S.-Russia space partnership has been the sharing of space transportation capabilities, with both Russian cosmonauts and U.S. astronauts flying aboard each others' spacecraft over the past two decades.





 


ALL ABOUT TOWN

Tuesday, Jan. 27


Observe the 71st anniversary of the end of the Siege of Leningrad on Palace Square with a free concert at 7 p.m. Listen to WWII-era songs and the poetry of Olga Bergholz while you peruse outdoor exhibitions dedicated to life during wartime. The event is capped off by a fireworks display at 9 p.m.



Stop by the Lexica School of Foreign Languages at 73 Ligovsky Prospekt from now until Friday for a free English lesson. The classes start at 7 p.m. and cover all levels, from Beginner to Advanced. Registration by telephone on 7641692 and a desire to improve your skills are the only prerequisites.



Wednesday, Jan. 28



Feel like becoming a publishing mogul? Stop by the Freedom anti-cafe at 7 Ulitsa Kazanskaya today at 8 p.m. where Simferopol, Crimea-based founder and chief editor of the Holst online magazine will talk about creating an internet magaine, including what stories to cover, how find an audience and build a team, where to find inspiration and how to stand out from the crowd. Admission is the normal price of the anti-café — 2 rubles per minute, which includes tea and snacks.



Learn everything you always wanted to know about wine, and perhaps a bit more, at the Le Nez du Vin seminar for wine lovers. Held at the WineJet Sommelier School, 100 Bolshoy Prospekt Petrograd Side, at 7:30 p.m., the event will cover wine production, the basics of wine tasting, the concept of terroir and the various countries where wine is produced. Tickets are 750 rubles and include a wine tasting. Register by calling +7 921 744 6264.



Thursday, Jan. 29



Attend a master class on how to deal with complicated business negotiations today at the International Banking Institute, 6 Malaya Sadovaya Ulitsa. Running from 3 to 6 p.m., Vadim Sokolov, an assistant professor at the St. Petersburg State University of Economics, will introduce aspects of managing the negotiation process and increasing its effectiveness. Attendance is free with pre-registration by telephone on 909 3056 or online at www.ibispb.ru



Celebrate what would be writer Anton Chekov's 155th birthday at the Bokvoed bookshop at 46 Nevsky Prospekt. Starting at 5 p.m., the legendary author will be feted with readings of his stories and short performances based on his plays by various St. Petersburg actors. Chekov's book will also be offered at a 15% discount during the event.





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