Virginia’s space program expects to stay “on track” with its upcoming launch from the East Coast to resupply the International Space Station, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has clouded the long-term horizon for rockets that depend on Russian engines and the Ukrainian first stage. basic assemblies.
The Antares rocket launched from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island on Feb. 19 for the International Space Station’s 17th resupply mission under two private contracts with NASA, most from the ramp state-owned launch pad on the barrier. island in the Atlantic Ocean.
Virginia Space CEO Ted Mercer said Monday that he expects the next Antares launch in August to remain “on track, on schedule,” despite concerns about the future of Antares. a space station that relies on the now tense cooperation between the United States and Russia. Arm wrestling over Ukraine.
“We share the concern about what this is going to mean,” said Mercer, a retired US Air Force general who last year became CEO of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, which operates the port. regional space.
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Virginia has a stake in the outcome because of the state’s $160 million investment in the spaceport, with three launch pads serving a number of different customers, including Northrop Grumman, the county company of Fairfax which conducts space station resupply missions under contract with NASA.
Northrop Grumman and NASA released brief, terse statements in response to space industry concerns over the program’s future, after Russian space agency chief Dmitry Rogozin slammed President Joe Biden on Twitter last week. for imposing economic sanctions.
Biden said last week that the sanctions included cuts in U.S. technology exports to Russia that he said would “degrade their aerospace industry, including their space program.”
Rogozin, Director General of Roscosmos, asked: “Do you want to destroy our cooperation on the[InternationalSpaceStation?[InternationalSpaceStation?”[Stationspatialeinternationale?[InternationalSpaceStation?”
NASA responded last week with a reassuring statement about the future of the space station orbiting Earth with an international crew of astronauts.
“NASA continues to work with all of our international partners, including State Space Corporation Roscosmos, for the continued safe operations of the International Space Station,” the US space agency said.
“The new export control measures will continue to enable US-Russian civil space cooperation,” NASA added. “No changes are planned for the agency’s support of ongoing operations in orbit and on the ground.”
Northrop Grumman referred all questions about US sanctions to NASA, but said “we have all the hardware necessary to complete our NASA-contracted missions on Antares.”
John Logsdon, founder and former director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, said, “It’s a very dynamic situation.”
Logsdon, professor emeritus of political science and international affairs at the university, said the Russians had withdrawn their personnel from the European space station launch site in South America.
“That’s not just what we’re going to do,” he said. “That’s what they’re going to do.”
Concerns about the Antares program focused on the vulnerability of a supply chain that appears directly in the line of war and retaliatory sanctions.
A Russian company, NPO Energomash, has been manufacturing the RD-181 engines used in the rocket program since 2016, after an Antares rocket using rebuilt Russian engines exploded seconds after launch in October 2014, causing a $20 million loss. damage to the state-owned pad.
Two Ukrainian companies, Yuzhnoye and Yuzhmash, design and build the first-stage booster assemblies that propel the rocket from the launch pad. Specialized space publications cited unconfirmed reports that Russian attacks in Dnipro, Ukraine damaged or destroyed the factory that manufactures the assemblies.
“In terms of Wallops specifically, I think the prospects for long-term collaboration are shaky if the Ukrainian factory has indeed been destroyed,” Logsdon said.
On Monday, Space.com reported that attacks destroyed a huge cargo plane previously used to transport Russian space shuttles. The Antonov AN-225, nicknamed “The Dream”, was parked for repair in a hangar at an airport outside Kiev, the country’s beleaguered capital.
“The world’s largest plane ‘Mriya’ (The Dream) was destroyed by Russian occupiers at an airfield near Kiev,” Ukraine announced on its official Twitter account on Sunday. “We will rebuild the plane. We will realize our dream of a strong, free and democratic Ukraine.”
The Antares program isn’t Virginia’s only major spaceport customer.
Governor Glenn Youngkin confirmed on Monday that California-based Rocket Lab will expand its presence there with the construction of a new launch complex that would be used for the Neutron rocket. The spaceport already includes a launch pad that Rocket Lab will use for its Electron rocket to deliver payloads to Earth orbit.
Youngkin said in a statement that the 250,000-square-foot complex will be built on a 28-acre site adjacent to the Wallops Island Flight Facility and up to 250 engineers, technicians and support personnel could be stationed there.
Electron’s first launch from the spaceport is scheduled for this year, pending NASA certification of the new launch complex’s automated flight termination system, Mercer said.
The pending two-year state budget, which was then the government. Ralph Northam, presented in December, includes $30 million for the construction of a second pad that Rocket Lab could use for the Neutron rocket if it chooses the Wallops Island site. The proposed House and Senate budgets include an additional $15 million in proposed incentives for the project.
Mercer pointed out that the installation would be a “multi-user launchpad” that other customers could also use.
“The customer brings their rocket, their payload, and we launch it for them,” he said.