This Month in SpaceFlight – May 2020

Beyond the ISS: Editor David Baker relates how NASA is in the process of opening up the International Space Station to commercial use. As part of that process, the agency has selected Houston-based company Axiom Space to supply a minimum of one, possibly more, commercial habitable modules to be attached to the station.

This is seen as the first step to a low Earth orbit economy in which NASA will be one of a number of customers, and is part of a five-point plan to open up the ISS to new commercial ventures. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine says that “We are transforming the way NASA works with industry.” This early objective is a stepping-stone to a new, commercial, on-orbit facility, with additional Axiom modules being attached to the ISS – when the station reaches its retirement date, the “Axiom Complex” will detach and begin to operate as an independent commercial station.

Axiom is also planning the first commercial human-crewed flight to the ISS, having signed a contract for a Crew Dragon with SpaceX.

The Future & the Vision:

Michael Suffredini, former NASA ISS Manager and co-founder of Axiom Space, gives his own well-informed views on the future of the station, and how his team of ex-NASA employees will bring their experience of space station operations to bear upon the commercialisation of low Earth orbit. Axiom is at present offering trips to the ISS for persons who wish to have the “transformative experience” of going into space – attaching modules to the ISS which will develop into a free-flying independent station represents the second and third phases of the company’s plan.

Places to go? Nick Spall writes of the long history of hope, anticipation, and frustration for British human spaceflight, and of how, in more recent times, advocacy by the UK space community has led to a more favourable climate for British astronauts. Science Minister Lord Drayson was in favour of British HSF and negotiated with ESA for a British astronaut, leading to the selection of Major Tim Peake. It is important to note that Lord Drayson’s successor, David Willets, shared this pro-HSF attitude. The Human Exploration Manager of the UK Space Agency, Libby Jackson, explained to Nick how the UK Space Environments Association (UKSEA) works with UKSA to help coordinate the microgravity research community in Britain, and that the business case for research on the International Space Station is strong.

Furthermore, with the forthcoming British spaceports, it is entirely possible that British astronauts may one day fly from British soil. The attitude is the media to British HSF is favourable, and the future for crewed space flight in Britain is at last looking bright.

A Matter of Survival: Dr Brett Gooden asks whether astronauts could be despatched on a Mars mission lasting for two years, with confidence that they would remain in adequate good health to accomplish the mission – and concludes that with present knowledge, the answer is far from certain. Dr Gooden is well qualified to write an article giving a view of the problems of prolonged microgravity and low gravity, having written an article for the March 1964 issue of Spaceflight, in which he pointed out that the Mercury programme had proven that humans could survive in space for a few days, but that prolonged spaceflight was another matter. He is a lecturer in Space Medicine for the International Space University.

Dr Gooden covers the problems of extended periods of microgravity under the headings of the balance organs, the cardiovascular system, body fluids, the eyes, bones and muscles, and the tactile and other senses, considering both historical and current experience with such problems and their amelioration, concluding that extensive further research is required, and ending with a list of references for further reading.


UK Space: A delegation from the Canadian space industry visited Britain in early March to discuss possible space cooperation, in an initiative supported by the UK Space Agency. The delegation visited sites and organisations in London, Surrey, and Glasgow, with the prospects for the exchange of data and capabilities being regarded as very promising.


In Other News:

  • The Rosalind Franklin Mars rover will now not launch for two years, due to technical difficulties with the parachute system – problems which cannot be fixed in time two meet the launch window for a Hohmann transfer orbit to Mars.
  • ESA has been investigating the logistic and mass budget advantages of prolonged hibernation for the crew of a Mars mission, concluding that a substantially smaller cabin would be required.
  • The Ukrainian company KB Yuzhnoye is helping China to develop a crew-carrying lunar lander, using three throttalable Lox-Kerosene engines.
  • With heavy heart, the BIS reports the death, at the age of 88, of Colonel Al Worden, Apollo 15 Command Module pilot, and BIS Fellow. A full obituary will follow in the next issue of SpaceFlight.


To purchase your copy of Spaceflight, please visit here.

Be sociable; support the BIS!