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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

Friday, Oct. 31


Put your grammar and logical thinking to the test in a fun and friendly environment during the British Book Center’s Board Game Evening starting at 5 p.m. today. The event is free and all are welcome to attend.



Saturday, Nov. 1


The men and women who dedicate their lives to fitness get their chance to compete for the title of best body in Russia at today’s Grand Prix Fitness House PRO, the nation’s premier bodybuilding competition. Not only will men and women be competing for thousands of dollars in prizes and a trip to represent their nation at Mr. Olympia but sporting goods and nutritional supplements will also be available for sale. Learn more about the culture of the Indian subcontinent during Diwali, the annual festival of lights that will be celebrated in St. Petersburg this weekend at the Culture Palace on Tambovskaya Ul. For 100 rubles ($2.40), festival-goers listen to Indian music, try on traditional Indian outfits and sample dishes highlighting the culinary diversity of the billion-plus people in the South Asian superpower.



Sunday, Nov. 2


Check out the latest video and interactive games at the Gaming Festival at the Mayakovsky Library ending today. Meet with the developers of the popular and learn more about their work, or learn how to play one of their creations with the opportunity to ask the creators themselves about the exact rules.



Monday, Nov. 3


Non-athletes can get feed their need for competition without breaking a sweat at the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament this evening at the Cube Bar at Lomonosova 1. Referees will judge the validity of each matchup award points to winners while the city’s elite fight for the chance to be called the best of the best. Those hoping to play must arrange a team beforehand and pay 200 rubles ($4.80) to enter.



Tuesday, Nov. 4


Attend the premiere of Canadian director Xavier Dolan’s latest film “Mommy” at the Avrora theater this evening. The fifth picture from the 25-year-old, it is the story of an unruly teenager but the most alluring (or unappealing) aspect is the way the film was shot: in a 1:1 format that is more reminiscent of Instagram videos than cinematic art. Tickets cost 400 rubles ($9.60) and snacks and drinks will be available.



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