Today’s Tidbits: November 20, 2018

Today’s Tidbits: November 20, 2018

Here are’s tidbits for November 20, 2018:  ISS celebrates 20th birthday; Jared Stout departing the National Space Council; Musk gives BFR a new name.  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

ISS Celebrates 20th Birthday

Twenty years ago today, the first piece of the International Space Station (ISS) went into orbit.  Built and launched by Russia, but paid for by NASA, the Zarya (Dawn) module was the first step in an “assembly sequence” that ultimately took more than a decade to complete.

The final assembly mission, ULF 5, was in February 2011. NASA has a list of all 40 launches needed to construct the ISS, of which 35 used the U.S. space shuttle. The other five were Russian.  []  Those are assembly flights only. The list does not Russian launches for crew rotations and cargo delivery, or European and Japanese cargo launches during that time period and, of course, there have been many more since.

The International Space Station (ISS). Credit: NASA

ISS is hailed as a marvel of space engineering and international cooperation.  Five space agencies — NASA, Roscosmos, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), and the European Space Agency (ESA) — manage the complex on behalf of the 15 partner nations: the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, and 11 European countries (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom).  ISS has been permanently occupied by crews of between two and six people since November 2, 2000.  Three are there right now:  NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor, ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev.

In his 1984 State of the Union address, President Ronald Reagan directed NASA to build a space station, with international partners, “within a decade.”  Europe, Canada and Japan quickly joined as partners in what was then called Space Station Freedom.  (At the time the Soviet Union had a space station named Mir — Peace).

By 1993, almost to the end of Reagan’s decade, Freedom was beset by significant cost overruns and schedule delays.  After spending $11 billion over the prior 9 years, not a single flight element had been built.  The newly inaugurated Clinton Administration ordered a restructuring of the program.  At the same time, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War created a new relationship with Russia and it was invited to join the partnership.  The revamped program became known simply as the “International Space Station.”

The cost through the end of construction is variously listed as $60-100 billion depending in large measure on how shuttle launch costs are calculated (marginal versus full cost) and whether the first nine years are included.  NASA routinely talks about the ISS program as beginning in 1993, ignoring the Freedom years.

Except for Russia, there is no exchange of funds among the partners, who paid for their own contributions.  They include Europe’s Columbus laboratory module and the Cupola, JAXA’s Kibo (or JEM) laboratory module, and Canada’s robotic arm, Canadarm2.  Russia paid for the second module it launched, Zvezda, and two docking compartments. Since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011, Russia is the only partner capable of ferrying crews back and forth.  NASA pays Russia for those services for U.S., European, Japanese and Canadian astronauts pursuant to its obligations under the 1998 Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) that governs the program.

The tortuous history of the program is too complex to recount here and its future beyond 2024 is TBD.  Perhaps on a milestone birthday it is best to celebrate the present and not dwell upon the past or worry about the future.  NASA is proud of the scientific experiments being conducted on ISS today and the fact that anyone under 18 years of age has never known a day when people were not living in space.  To NASA it is an essential steppingstone to human exploration of space beyond low Earth orbit.

Happy Birthday, ISS.   


Jared Stout Departs the Space Council

Jared Stout (far right) shown with Vice President Pence, President Trump and Scott Pace at the signing of SPD-1, Dec 11, 2017.

National Space Council Executive Secretary Scott Pace announced today that his deputy, Jared Stout, is leaving.

 “Since the day President Trump reinvigorated the National Space Council, Jared Stout has been vital to the Council’s success. Jared played a crucial role in developing President Trump’s three space policy directives as well as several additional initiatives the Council has taken on. His deep commitment to American leadership in space is clear throughout his work, and his efforts will have a lasting impact on the Council. On behalf of President Trump, Vice President Pence, and the entire administration, I thank him for his dedicated service and wish him the best in his new opportunity.” — Scott Pace

That leaves Pace, Thea McDonald, Mike Beavin and Chris Beauregard as the members of the permanent Space Council staff (excluding detailees).

Musk Reveals New Name for BFR

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has a new name for his Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) — Starship.

Starship is the two-stage vehicle Musk plans to use to send people to the Moon and Mars.  He has talked about it at international conferences, but the design is evolving and it is difficult to obtain any hard facts about it.  Conceptually, the first stage is a rocket (which Musk calls “Super Heavy”) and the second stage, Starship, is a crew vehicle that can travel through space and land on the Moon or other surface and return home.

Musk said in February, at the time of the Falcon Heavy launch, that he will begin testing the crew section with hopping tests in 2019.

Musk signed  his first commercial customer for Starship earlier this year. Billionaire Japanese artist Yusaku Maezawa paid an undisclosed amount of money for the first flight of the Starship around the Moon and will invite six to eight other artists to make the trip with him.

That seems to have directed Musk’s attention to getting Starship ready.  On Saturday he revealed that he has ended plans to make the second stage of the Falcon 9 reusable so he can focus on Starship instead.

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