Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Full Nelson

Click the arrow to watch the video.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) took to the Senate floor yesterday to discuss the state of U.S. - Russian space relations.

(The Senate floor was empty, as usual. The speech was for C-SPAN viewers.)

Nelson's 17-minute remarks included a history of the two nations' relations in space, leading up to today.

Of particular importannce, Nelson said that the station's command codes run through Johnson Space Center, so Russia cannot dock or leave unless NASA allows it.

Regarding recent threats to deny access to RD-180 engines, Nelson noted (as I did on May 13) that Russia's engine industry relies heavily on those sales, and would lose jobs if Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin follows through on his threat.

Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, three Republican members of the House Science Committee sent a letter today to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, raising several questions about the status of Russian space relations.

Click here to read the letter.

Four major questions were raised:

  1. The status of negotiations to extend the International Space Station beyond 2020.
  2. A list of “all critical components” provided by Russia necessary to extend the ISS beyond 2020.
  3. The impacts upon the ISS partnership should Russia withdraw after 2020.
  4. The impacts upon NASA if Russia ends shipments of RD-180 and NK-33 engines.

The RD-180 engines are used on the ULA Atlas V, while the NK-33 engines are used by Orbital Sciences on the Antares that launches the Cygnus cargo module to the ISS.

The letter also asserts that the law requires NASA to use the Space Launch System and Orion capsule as a “backup” for ISS access, although no one I know thinks SLS is capable of that. Inadequate funding from Congress means the first crewed flight of SLS to anywhere won't happen until the early 2020s.

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