Tuesday, February 05, 2013

After Hadfield: A Deluge of New Private Sector Astronauts

Rob Bendall
It's quite likely that our next Canadian astronauts won't work for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

As originally outlined in the June 3rd, 2012 blog post "Meteorites, ITAR, a Secret Consortium of Research Universities & Astronauts from Manitoba," Winnipeg natives Rob Bendall, a former bush pilot and Vince Jandrisch, an ex-Canadian forces Snowbird demonstration pilot, will be among the first to fly paying customers to the edge of space aboard the Virgin Galactic fleet of suborbital spacecraft.

This gives Bendall and Jandrisch a better chance of getting into space faster than current CSA astronauts Jeremy R. Hansen and David Saint-Jacques who are still waiting patiently for any upcoming Canadian seat to the International Space Station (ISS).

Chris Hadfield.
As outlined way back in the September 4th, 2010 Spaceref.ca article "Canadian Space Agency in Negotiations for Future Launch Access to the Space Station," the current trip by Chris Hadfield is the last available contracted Canadian launch seat to the ISS.

According to the article:
Future flights to the ISS will have to be paid for by the CSA unless some other arrangements are made with NASA. But NASA will not have its own human launch capability in place for many years to come. So that leaves the Russians. For 2013-2014 NASA will pay Russia $56 million per seat on a Russian Soyuz. Realistically with Hadfield being onboard the ISS until almost mid-year in 2013 Canada won't likely send another astronaut to the ISS until the earliest 2015 at which point a Soyuz flight will most likely have gone up in price. It would also most likely mean that this is Hadfield's last flight.
Virgin Galactic expects to begin commercial suborbital flights beginning in 2014 at which point, Bendall and Jandrisch become our next Canadian astronauts.

This situation isn't unique to the CSA. As outlined in the January 13th, 2013 Universe Today article "Private Test Pilots to Fly 1st Commercial Crewed Space Flights for NASA," commercial test pilots and not NASA astronauts, will fly the first crewed missions of the Boeing CST-100, the SpaceX Dragon capsule and the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser lifting body before passing the tested vessels along to NASA.

The article quotes "NASA managers" as stating that:
...the agency is implementing a new way of doing business in human spaceflight and purposely wants private companies to assume the flight risk first with their crews before exposing NASA crews as a revolutionary new flight requirement.
On January 29th, Astronauts4Hire (A4H), a private sector recruiting firm and the National AeroSpace Training and Research (NASTAR) Center announced that they had signed a services agreement for space training and collaborate on developing "new A4H-branded training programs for A4H’s commercial astronaut candidates," according to the January 31st, 2013 Parabolic Arc article "Astronauts4Hire and NASTAR Center Announce Partnership."

NASTAR is a division of Environmental Tectonics Corporation (ETC), a private firm with a long history of US and international military and civilian aircrew training.

In essence, while we should certainly be applauding the current adventures of our government funded astronauts, we also need to remember that their time is rapidly coming to a close. Perhaps they'll eventually find jobs in the private sector.

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