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Last Week in the Dmitrys: Roscosmos, Glavkosmos Bosses Talk SpaceX, Tourism and More

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
November 1, 2021
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Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin. (Credit: A. Savin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The International Astronautical Congress wrapped up last week in Dubai. Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin and Glavkosmos boss Dmitry Loskutov held forth during the conference on SpaceX, space tourism and other topics.

Roscosmos is the state-owned corporation that runs Russia’s space program. Glavkosmos is Roscosmos’ commercial arm.

Cosmonauts to fly on Crew Dragon: Rogozin said SpaceX’s Crew Dragon now has enough flights under its belt for Russian cosmonauts to fly aboard it. Crew Dragon has flown three crews to the International Space Station (ISS) and a group of amateur astronauts on a three-day orbital flight. Roscosmos and NASA will pursue a barter agreement that will allow U.S. astronauts to fly on Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Before Crew Dragon began flights, NASA was paying Roscosmos $90 million per seat to fly its astronauts to ISS.

ISS movie mission spurs commercial interest: TASS quotes Rogozin as saying the success of a 12-day mission that sent director Klim Shipenko and actress Yulia Peresild to film a motion picture titled “The Challenge” on ISS has generated a lot of interest in future commercial flights.

“Thanks to this project, Russia has bolstered its authority with the international space community. And we have a concrete commercial result – we are receiving a huge number of applications for flights aboard our spaceship to the orbital space station both from foreign specialists, who want to use our resources, and from space tourists,” he told a briefing on the sidelines of the 72nd International Astronautical Congress in Dubai.

Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov flew Shipenko and Peresild to the space station aboard Soyuz MS-19 on Oct. 5. Shkaplerov and fellow cosmonauts Oleg Novitsky and Pyotr Dubrov had roles in the movie, whose plot involves a doctor played by Peresild flying to the station to operate on an injured crew member.

Director Klim Shipenko and actress Yulia Peresild aboard the International Space Station. (Credit: Roscosmos)

Rogozin said Peresild and the cosmonauts were able to practice how surgery would be done in the microgravity environment of space. TASS reports:

“How to fasten a doctor so that he is able to control his own actions. How to fasten a patient so that he is motionless to make the most precise movements with surgical instruments, how to fasten the instrument, what to do with blood, which, unlike terrestrial conditions, does not pour on the floor, but under the conditions of the absence of gravity it wraps the instruments like oil. That’s what we carried out in orbit,” Rogozin said.

Astronauts and cosmonauts have suffered minor injuries in space, but they haven’t been serious enough to require surgery.

Shipenko and Peresild returned to Earth on Oct. 17 with Novitsky on Soyuz MS-18. Shkaplerov remained aboard ISS for a six-month mission.

Separating Professional Cosmonauts & Visitors: While filming the movie took up a lot of the cosmonauts’ time, Rogozin said there needs to be an effort to keep future station visitors from causing disruptions. The National quotes Rogozin as saying:

“On the other hand – and this point is frequently being made by professionals – the space tourist may not be aware of what’s going around them, which may result in one of them doing something that may disrupt the mission.

“The last thing the crew needs is a distraction from their professional duties and that is what we need to think about.”

Roscosmos will soon have the capability to expand the Russian segment of the station. The state corporation is scheduled to launch the Prichal node module to the station later this month. The node, which will be attached to the recently arrived Nauka module, has five docking port for additional modules and visiting crewed and resupply ships.

Prichal nodal module (Credit: RSC Energia/Roscosmos)

Russia had long planned to attach the Science and Power Module, also known by its Russian acronym as NEM-1, to the Prichal node. NEM-1 will include state-of-the-art laboratory facilities, large power-generating solar arrays, and additional living quarters.

However, Roscosmos said it was reconsidering the plan earlier this year. Instead of launching NEM-1 to the existing station, engineers could modify the module to serve as the core of the planned Russian Orbital Space Station (ROSS) scheduled for launch later in the decade as operations of the aging ISS end.

The Science and Power Module (NEM-1) includes a pressurized module and power generating solar cells. (Credit: RSC Energia)

Roscosmos is still in the process of defining its future plans. In July, Rogozin tweeted that NEM-1 could still be attached to ISS. Russia would have the option of moving the module to ROSS once ISS is decommissioned.

Axiom Space plans to launch modules to ISS later in the decade that would be used by visitors. The Axiom modules would later be detached to form the basis of a commercial space station.

Actress Yulia Peresild, cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov and film director Klim Shipenko. (Credit: Roscosmos)

Training & Safety Issues: Paid visitors to the station receive far less training than professional cosmonauts and astronauts. Although he praised the “Challenge” mission, veteran cosmonaut Aleksey Ovchinin recently told RT that non-professional cosmonauts need more training. He noted the extra burden placed on Shkaplerov as he flew Soyuz MS-19 alone.

“He had to take double responsibility and bear double burden,” Ovchinin said, adding that usually such missions have an onboard engineer, who does a “lion’s share” of work during the flight to the ISS. “Now, he had to do twice as much work that was twice as difficult,” the cosmonaut said.

Yet, even with Shkaplerov onboard, the mission was still somewhat risky, Ovchinin believes. He explained that there could be some emergencies that can only be dealt with by two professionals.  “Had such an emergency happened onboard, the spacecraft commander would have had a hard time dealing with it,” he said.

In fact, the Tuesday mission did face an emergency onboard when the Soyuz spacecraft was about to dock with the ISS. Fortunately, it was not one of a kind described by Ovchinin. An automated docking system failed so Shkaplerov had to dock the spacecraft manually and did so successfully.

Flying Soyuz with two paying customers and only one fully trained cosmonaut marks a significant change from previous flights. Russia flew seven paying customers eight trips to ISS between 2001 and 2009. (Charles Simonyi flew to the station twice.) Each flight included two professionals fully trained to fly the Soyuz spacecraft.

The first space tourist, Dennis Tito, poses with Soyuz TM-32 crew mates Talgat Musabayev and Yuri Baturin in 2001. (Credit: NASA)

Why the change? Roscosmos hasn’t said, but it is most likely due to budget reasons. Roscosmos can no longer rely on NASA paying $90 million per seat for rides to the station now that SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is operational. SpaceX is also flying paying customers to ISS and on short missions in Earth orbit, creating competitive pressure that has driven down the prices that Roscosmos can charge.

Further Price Reductions: Loskutov told TASS that he expects spaceflight prices to come down significantly in the future.

“We have always been saying that competition is good. It helps bring down prices. <…> The sector will require billions-worth investments but we anticipate that prices for spaceflights will begin to go down in the 2030s and will be affordable for people,” he said in an interview with BAM agency on the sidelines of the 72nd International Astronautical Congress in Dubai.

“Today, we are speaking with the active players in the sector that we must do our best to bring the prices down. I think our partners heed it,” he noted.

Prices for orbital flights are in the tens of millions of dollars. Virgin Galactic is charging new customers $450,000 for suborbital flights that provide about 3 minutes of weightlessness. Previous customers paid $200,000 or $250,000 depending upon when they purchased tickets. The company raised the price in 2013.

Yusaku Maezawa (Credit: Space Adventures)

And coming up next: Roscosmos is set to launch another pair of paying customers to ISS on Dec. 8. Cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin will fly Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and his production assistant, Yozo Hirano, to the station for a 12-day mission. The flight was arranged by U.S.-based Space Adventures, which booked all eight commercial astronaut flights to ISS during the 2000’s.

Following that, Axiom Space will take three paying passengers to the space station aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon in February 2022. The flight will be commanded by former NASA astronaut turned Axiom executive Michael Lopez-Alegria.

The Axiom Space Ax-1 crew: former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, Canadian businessman Mark Pathy, American investor Larry Connor, and Israeli businessman Eytan Stibbe. (Credit: Axiom Space)

Additional American and Russian commercial flights are planned for the years ahead. Loskutov said that Glavkosmos has signed a preliminary agreement with a client to fly four paying customers on a pair Soyuz flights in 2024. He provided no further details about the customers or the flights.

Thus far, all paying customers have remained inside of space station. Sergei Kostenko, head of Space Adventures Russian office, said the company has clients who are interested in take spacewalks from the facility — for an extra fee, of course.


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