The year ends in 2021. And it seems that space is entering the life of ordinary people more and more densely, and the future, as it seemed to science fiction writers, is getting closer. Space tourists have reappeared, feature films are being shot in orbit, and the Russian segment of the International Space Station is gradually growing in modules. Izvestia was looking into which events in world cosmonautics became the most important this year.
They fly more often
The number of launches is growing and is very close to 140. China has been holding the lead in the number of starts for four years in a row (51 as of 19:12), but they have quality problems, three accidents in a year at once, however, mostly attributable to commercial vehicles. In second place is the United States (44 launches as of 19:12), three quarters of which are provided by SpaceX. Slightly less than half of US launches are continued deployment of the Starlink satellite constellation to provide broadband Internet access. Russia is in third place, on December 19, Roscosmos had 22 launches. This year Roskosmos continues the longest in its history, the accident-free series of launches.
Photo: RIA Novosti / Kirill Kallinikov
It should be clarified that just comparing the number of starts is not always correct. Ultimately, it is much more important what kind of space program a particular country has and how far it can be implemented. And launches are more likely an indicator of the general level of development of the space industry. If we talk about individual achievements, then this year almost every space power has a lot of interesting things.
Launch of the modules “Science” and “Prichal” to the ISS
The Science module for the Russian segment of the International Space Station has been awaited for a very long time. It so happened that there are as many as three laboratory modules operating in the international segment: the European Columbus, the American Destiny, and the Japanese Kibo, while Russia has never had a single one. And although the creation of the Russian scientific module was started back in 2008, it still could not get out of a series of problems and failed tests. Chips were found in the fuel tanks of Nauka, the module was aging, and many were already mentally prepared for the fact that it would not be launched, but would immediately go to the museum like a monument to the era.
However, on July 21, after years of waiting and postponements, Nauka was nevertheless sent to the International Space Station. The flight of “Science” has become one of the most difficult for the Russian Flight Control Center. Experts faced many problems, from a valve that did not work on time between the fuel lines to software failures. For eight days, dozens of specialists did everything to prevent this flight from ending in an accident, overcoming all possible difficulties.
Docking of the Progress M-UM cargo vehicle with the Prichal module to the Russian segment of the International Space Station
Photo: Roskosmos / roscosmos.ru / Petr Dubrov
But even after the jewelry docking, the problems did not end. The “Science” module was not turned off correctly and switched to the “coupling” state, the autonomous flight program was still in effect. And after more than an hour of flight, the Nauka computer issued a command to turn on the module’s engines for withdrawal, tried to move away from the station and dock again. As a result, the station was turned along the axis, and then, with the help of the attitude control engines of the station and the Progress cargo spacecraft, the ISS returned to the correct position. The station crew and its modules were not damaged.
Four months later, another module was launched to the International Space Station – “Prichal”… His flight and docking went smoothly. Thus, Russia added two new modules to its segment in one year for the first time in almost two decades. The “Prichal” is intended for docking of cargo and manned ships, as well as for expanding the station with the help of new modules.
At present, the cosmonauts are working on integrating Nauka into the ISS system; in 2022, new scientific experiments are to begin in the module. I would very much like to hope that with the help of “Science” it will be possible to bring space science to a new level.
Starship atmospheric flights
SpaceX continues to build the new Starship space system. First, Starship should be the first fully reusable space system, consisting of the Superheavy first stage and the Starship spacecraft. Secondly, this system is larger in size and carrying capacity than any of the existing super-heavy missiles. If the company manages to implement Starship, it could become a major breakthrough in world space exploration.
Starship test launch
Photo: Global Look Press / SpaceX
In 2021, the orbital flight did not reach, although it was initially assumed that it would be implemented as early as July. However, from February to May 2021, SpaceX conducted four tests, during which the Starship prototype rose to an altitude of 10 km and demonstrated the possibility of horizontal flight. True, Starship managed to sit down only once. The company then announced that the next step should be suborbital or even orbital flight.
To date, SpaceX is still working on obtaining this permission from the regulatory authorities. The flight itself should take place in early 2022.
National Chinese Station
In 2021, there is one more station in orbit. On May 30, the Chinese launched the first module of their national space station. The Tiangong space station should become the world’s third multi-module manned orbital station (after the Mir and ISS stations), but smaller in size. The assembled space station of three modules will have a mass of more than 60 tons, and over time it can be expanded to 100 tons or more.
A man watches a live TV broadcast of two astronauts from the Chinese spacecraft Shenzhou 12 performing space operations outside the main module of the Chinese space station.
Photo: Getty Images / SOPA Images
So far, only one Tianhe base module has been launched, but the station is already in operation. The first expedition of three Chinese astronauts worked at the station from June 17, 2021 to September 17. Almost immediately, on October 15, the second crew arrived at the station and will stay at the station for more than six months. Currently, the crew continues to work on connecting additional functions of the orbital station. For example, in November, during the spacewalk, Chinese cosmonauts installed equipment for working with the station’s remote manipulators.
Billionaire Space Race
In July 2021, for the first time in history, the work of two companies offering suborbital tourism services started at once – flights above 80 and 100 km, but without entering orbit. Such a flight is much faster and cheaper than a flight into space, and therefore, as expected, it will be in sufficient demand. If a flight into space currently costs about $ 40-50 million, then flying on a suborbital flight lasting 15 minutes and even feeling weightlessness for a short time can cost $ 450-500 thousand.
The maiden suborbital flight was made on July 11 by the VSS Unity spaceplane, a Virgin Galactic company owned by billionaire Richard Branson. The businessman himself went on the first flight with his brother and two more employees of the company. The spaceplane rose 90 km above the Earth’s surface, and the entire flight lasted about 15 minutes.
New Shepard Ship Crew
Photo: Global Look Press / Keystone Press Agency / Blue Origin
Nine days later, on July 20, billionaire Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, flew into space on the first flight of his company. His New Shepard rocket rose to an altitude of more than 100 km, beyond the Karman line, the conditional boundary of the beginning of space. The crew also had four people, including the 82-year-old pilot Wally Funk, who became the oldest person in space.
To date, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin has already completed three commercial suborbital flights, in the last six people flew past the Karman line. Virgin Galactic no longer ascended into space, specialists are still working on the completion of the spaceplane, and the next tourist flight has been postponed to 2022.
Renewal of space tourism
Two orbital tourist missions took place at once in 2021. SpaceX sent the Inspiration 4 mission, which lasted four days. It is noteworthy that there was not a single professional cosmonaut among the flight participants. The flight of the Crew Dragon spacecraft itself took place in automatic mode, and the selected orbit allowed the crew to be at a distance of 585 km from the Earth’s surface (the ISS orbit is at an altitude of about 400 km). Thus, only the Apollo astronauts flew farther from Earth than the participants in Inspiration 4.
In December, for the first time in twelve years, space tourists were launched by Roskosmos. Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and his friend, producer Yozo Hirano went on a flight to the International Space Station. Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin took the space tourists. According to representatives of Roskosmos, another such commercial flight is expected in 2022. The price for the chair was not disclosed, according to experts, it is about $ 50 million, like other companies. In total, the Japanese will spend eight days on the ISS.
Space tourist Yusaku Maezawa before the launch of the Soyuz-2.1a carrier rocket
Photo: RIA Novosti / Maxim Blinov
Separately, it should be said about another flight of non-professionals, which is quite important for world cosmonautics. In October 2021, Roscosmos implemented the Challenge scientific and educational project, within which a film crew was sent to the International Space Station, which included actress Yulia Peresild and director Klim Shipenko. As part of the project, the station filmed material for the future film “Challenge”, cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky played one of the roles in it.
Despite conflicting reviews, the project has become a significant event in the popularization of Russian cosmonautics. The rocket launch with a movie crew was shown live on Channel One, and the interest in the flight was much higher than usual. The Challenge is expected to be released in December 2022.
There is one more important event that took place at the very end of the year. December 25 rocket “Ariane-5” was launched from the Kourou cosmodrome in French Guiana… She put the James Webb Space Telescope into orbit. It is an orbiting infrared observatory that is expected to replace the Hubble Space Telescope.
The James Webb Space Telescope before being sent to the launch site in Kourou, French Guiana
Photo: Global Look Press / NASA
The James Webb telescope has been in the making for over twenty years, its price has increased many times during the creation process, and the launch date has been postponed many times. But now the space observatory will significantly expand the possibilities for astrophysicists and will allow to learn much more about the first stars and galaxies formed after the Big Bang. Will give an opportunity to study the formation and development of galaxies, stars, planetary systems and the origin of life. An excellent Christmas and New Year gift for all space lovers!
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