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Saturday, March 19, 2022

Color Statement

The March 18 launch of Russia’s Soyuz MS-21 – mentioned in an earlier Aerospace Perceptions update – has taken a turn for the surprising. After a fully nominal, brief two-orbit chase of the International Space Station, the Soyuz Korolyov spacecraft docked with the ISS. Hatches opened – and things took a turn toward the unexpected.

The three-man crew of the mission boarded the ISS wearing bright yellow and blue flight suits – the unmistakable colors of the Ukrainian flag.

Russian cosmonauts Sergey Korsakov, Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveyev speak upon their arrival at the ISS, in a video broadcast by the Russian space agency. Video image: Roscosmos

Rampant speculation commenced. Was this the orbital equivalent of holding up a “No War” sign on Russian state television? How could the crew of the Soyuz stow away unofficial gear in the cramped confines of their vehicle? Was this a semi-official Roscosmos statement expressing anger over the financial impact Putin’s folly will have on the Russian space program? If Roscosmos was horrified by a crew protest, why did they allow video of the impertinence to stream out before the eyes of the world?

What was certain is that such colors have never been worn by any other Soyuz crew arriving at the ISS. When asked if the colors had special significance, mission commander Oleg Artemyev demurred.

“It became our turn to pick a color. But in fact, we had accumulated a lot of yellow material so we needed to use it. So that’s why we had to wear yellow,” he said.

Actions speak louder than words? Or perhaps an old truism says it best: a picture is worth a thousand words. 

Friday, March 18, 2022

Developments, Both Modest and (very) Large…

Just before noon EDT this morning, mission Soyuz MS-21 launched from the Russian spaceflight facility in Kazakhstan – the first manned spaceflight of 2022. The flight carries three Roscosmos cosmonauts bound for the International Space Station, the Russian spacecraft closing in on the ISS as I write these words. There is no need to revisit the strained US-Russia relations when it comes to space programs resulting from the needless invasion of Ukraine.


Bouncing back from a February mission failure, Astra successfully launched this flight from Kodiak Island in Alaska on March 15. Photo: Astra


Instead, let’s shed some light on another spaceflight venture this week that likely didn’t attract public attention. This launch took place in the relatively exotic setting of the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Kodiak Island in Alaska. Astra, the new spacecraft venture which suffered a mission failure earlier this year when a fairing failed to open properly after liftoff, this time enjoyed a successful flight to orbit with deployment of its small satellite payload a complete success. This venture opens the door for three planned Astra launches from Kennedy Space Center in months to come. More information on Astra and its planned ventures can be found here:


Some questioned when – if ever – the fully-stacked Artemis vehicle would appear ready for flight at Kennedy Space Center. The Artemis I vehicle began the final stage of its journey to the launch pad on March 17, as its eventual destination appeared in the skies overhead. Photo: Ben Cooper/ULA


Speaking of KSC in Florida, an hours-long process got underway late yesterday afternoon as the massive doors of the historic Vehicle Assembly Building slowly opened to reveal the fully-stacked Artemis I spacecraft system, ready to journey to Launch Complex 39B for final pre-flight testing. If all goes well, the massive vehicle – standing well over 300 feet tall – will climb into the skies later this year on an unmanned lunar test flight. Successful conclusion of this phase will put NASA’s space program within reach of a manned return to the moon – 50 years after the last Apollo mission, Apollo 17, completed on December 19, 1972.

Much more information on Artemis can be found here:

A gallery of Artemis travels from the VAB to LC39B on March 17 into the early morning of March 18 is here:

Friday, March 11, 2022

The War of the Words

Although the International Space Station (ISS) is just that – international in focus and components in orbit – by far the two biggest players to cement the success of this outpost in space are the United States and Russia.

In the wake of the final Space Shuttle mission - STS-135 in the summer of 2011 – United States manned missions to the ISS entered into a multi-year gap of dependency on Russian transport. On the surface it was a business arrangement, with the US reimbursing Russia for costs of carrying US astronauts to orbit. But the arrangement always depended on stability between the two superpowers, and minor events on Earth weren’t allowed to interfere with the ISS operations.

The configuration of the International Space Station. The Russians have threatened to take their pieces and go home.

Now, however, there is a major event, and the seismic implications of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine have reverberated into the ISS orbit – just weeks after operation authorization of the ISS was extended to 2030. Now, the station’s future is in immediate doubt, let alone pondering eight years in the future.

Reflecting the belligerent attitude of Russia’s authoritarian leader Vladimir Putin, the head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos – Dmitry Rogozin – stated, “In this situation, we can no longer supply the U.S. with our rocket engines that are the best in the world. Let them fly on something else, like their brooms, or whatever.” This followed up on Rogozin remarks during the 2014 Russian invasion of Crimea when he suggested the US resort to the use of trampolines to reach orbit.

Scott Kelly during his year-long service aboard the ISS. When he returned, medical studies comparing Scotto to his twin brother Mark were conducted, seeking to understand the impact of long-term life in space.

Scott Kelly had heard enough. Kelly and his twin brother Mark made a lasting impact on NASA, the siblings aboard space shuttle flights as both pilots and commanders as well as logging time stationed at the ISS – Scott spending a year straight in orbit beginning seven years ago this month. As one does in 2022, Scott took to Twitter to counter the remarks of Rogozin, and the result was a spiteful feud between the two high-profile players in the realm of aerospace.

Just yesterday, on March 10, Rogozin threatened to break an agreement to land US astronaut Mark Vande Hei – himself approaching a full year in space aboard the ISS - along with two Russian cosmonauts next month. Effectively, Vande Hei would be left stranded on the ISS until the US could figure out the logistics to bring him home.

The backstory of the verbal conflict - one that points out how fragile the orbit of the ISS actually is when competing powers are supposed to act as partners - is detailed in this recent CBS News report:

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Ice, Ice, Baby?

Ever since mankind began lobbing rockets up and out of our atmosphere, ice has been known to occasionally play havoc with images in still photos, film, and video. From time to time, ice flaking or falling away from space-bound vehicles has masqueraded as any number of objects – even leading to occasional speculation that what was being seen might be romantically extraterrestrial as opposed to the commonly frozen.

The latest such conundrum comes from a SpaceX launch yesterday, as Falcon 9 booster B1052 successfully lifted off from Florida on a Starlink satellite deployment mission. Everything was routine until sharp-eyed viewers noticed something nearly seven minutes into the flight, as the booster – now separated from its payload – was orienting itself for landing and recovery.

SpaceX Falcon 9 booster B1052 was preparing for post-launch descent yesterday when the circled object made its mysterious appearance.

Via a camera mounted on the booster, for several seconds something is seen moving vertically from the bottom of the screen to the top and slightly right to left. The object – dare I stick my neck out and not refer to it as ice – appears to be tumbling as it progresses, and before moving out of the frame reflects light. Although to be honest, for some object in space to be captured in the video for that amount of time, it would most likely have to originate from the SpaceX booster itself. Or did it?

You can see the video for yourself – and read the spirited debate or come up with your own explanation – by using the hashtag #B1052 on Twitter, or follow this direct link:

And if you figure it all out, let me know!

Friday, March 4, 2022

Mriya: Confirmation

Over the last few days – appearing as a footnote to the endless stories of death and destruction in Ukraine – several outlets questioned whether the massive Antonov An-225 known as Mriya had actually been destroyed in combat at Hostomel Airport outside Kyiv. Sadly, those questions have now been fully answered.

Video footage from “Channel One” retweeted by Turkish defense industry news platform provides evidence of the aircraft’s destruction.

Again, as I stated in my original post about the An-225’s fate: In no way am I equating the destruction of this flying machine with the loss of life and human suffering being imposed upon the world by Vladmir Putin’s dastardly and warped visions for power and control. This post is just a hope that an incredible vehicle will be remembered for the unique airplane it was.