Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Private Sector Dominated "NewSpace" World for our Next Astronauts

          By Brian Orlotti

Last June, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) announced the beginning of its fourth astronaut recruitment campaign, seeking two people to become Canada’s next generation of space travelers. After their selection next summer, the two successful applicants will begin their training at NASA.

As outlined in the August 19th, 2016 CBC News post, "Canadian Space Agency says 3,772 applied to be astronauts," the potential astronauts "hail from every province and territory, with 374 living abroad." Those selected after the first round of evaluation will take part in a rigorous selection process lasting almost a year. Two will eventually become astronauts. Graphic c/o CSA.

Recent events, however, indicate that the new astronauts will emerge from their training into a world quite different from when they started.

As outlined in the August 20th Spaceflight Now post, "NASA considers handing over ISS to a private company," NASA revealed during a press conference last week that it is considering transferring control of the International Space Station (ISS) to a private company by the mid-2020s.

The space agency did not reveal specifics as to potential buyers, nor did it elaborate on how it’s ISS partners would be affected by such a deal. Such a move could be the result of shrinking budgets stretching NASA’s resources too thinly, necessitating a shift in the agency’s priorities.

On August 19th, two NASA astronauts successfully installed a new docking port on the ISS. This port, named IDA-2, conforms to the new International Docking Adapter (IDA) standard agreed to by the US, Russia, Canada, the EU and Japan.

This standardized interface will enable private spacecraft from many companies and nations to automatically dock with the ISS without manual intervention, marking a key milestone in the evolution of the commercial space industry, and perhaps less work for the Canadian made Mobile Servicing System (MSS), which is currently used for manual docking.

In addition to the private sector’s increasing role in spaceflight, some governments are considering ramping up their space activities. As outlined in August 21st, 2016 Siasat Daily post, "India must take steps to undertake human space flight mission: Madhavan Nair," there are increasing calls in India for its space agency to begin human spaceflight activity as a way of building on the success of the Chandrayaan-1 and Mangalyaan space probes.

These moves are in parallel to those of the commercial space industry itself. As outlined in the August 19th, 2016 Washington Post article, "the inside story of how billionaires are racing to take you to outer space," these efforts include SpaceX and Blue Origin’s reusable rockets, Virgin Galactic’s Spaceship Two, Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch carrier aircraft, and, ultimately, SpaceX’s planned human missions to Mars.

Brian Orlotti.
Canada's newest astronauts will hold a unique position compared to their predecessors. They will enter the realm of spaceflight amidst a new energy not seen in decades. They will be the product of two worlds; molded by the traditions of the past and spurred on by the opportunities of the future.  

Brian Orlotti is a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

1 comment:

  1. Good article.

    As a point of discussion, I'm not sure that the addition of the new docking adapter would necessarily reduce the desire to use the Canadarm-2 to perform berthing operations as closing the final meter's to directly dock with the adapter will require the spacecraft to have expensive avionics on board. If it is a reusable spacecraft, then it may make sense to carry the avionics and "dock". If it is a disposable spacecraft then it tends to make sense to not carry that level of avionics and let the Canadarm-2 do the last steps to "berth" to the adapter. Just as it does now.

    I think it would be a resurgence of reusable ISS spacecraft that might reduce the need for berthing as opposed to the capabilities of the docking adapter.


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