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Neil DeGrasse Tyson And Bill Nye Are Planning A Space Launch, Details Here

Bill Nye Neil deGrasse TysonNeil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye are two of our favorites, so when they get together for some scheme or another, you can bet that it has our complete and total attention. And they’ve got a doozy of a project brewing this time, as they’re about to test their LightSail spacecraft.

The two popular figures in the scientific community, along with their partners at the Planetary Society, announced that they plan to embark on their first test mission in May of this year. Entirely funded by private citizens, the solar sail satellite will be a part of an upcoming launch of an Atlas V rocket.

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Boeing Wins Manned Spacecraft Bid—We Think

Boeing-capsule-CST-100When President Obama announced the end of the Constellation program, many people worried about the U.S. not having a method of transport for its own astronauts. Since then, American astronauts have been buying rides to the ISS on Russian Soyuz capsules. Given that Russia will soon be bowing out of the ISS, it’s now particularly important that NASA figures out another way to transport its astronauts. Hence the Commercial Crew Program, NASA’s way of soliciting transportation services from private companies. The three contenders were SpaceX’s Dragon, Sierra Nevada’s Dreamchaser, and Boeing’s CST-100. This morning, the Wall Street Journal reported that NASA “is poised” to award the $3 billion to Boeing.

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Russia Bailing On The ISS

ISSSix weeks after NASA announced that it would be cutting ties with Russia, except for their collaboration on the ISS, Russia has gone a step further, saying that it plans to stop participating in the ISS after 2020.

Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, said that Russia will use its resources to focus on other projects. In the statement, he said, “We are very concerned about continuing to develop high-tech projects with such an unreliable partner as the United States, which politicises everything.” He also mentioned “inappropriate” sanctions, including plans to deny the export of high-tech equipment to Russia. In turn, Russia says that while it is ready to deliver engines used to build widely-used Atlas V rockets, it will only do so on the “condition that they will not be used to launch military satellites.” Um…

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SpaceX Files A Formal Protest Against The Federal Government

falcon 9Back in March, GFR reported on SpaceX’s plans to conduct missions for the U.S. military. The private contractor has been racking up the necessary certifications to use its Falcon rockets to launch government satellites, positioning them to start competing for contracts starting next year. But even then, there has been skepticism about SpaceX’s plans, not because of lack of ability, but because the Air Force halved the number of launches it will award to competitors between 2015-2017. So far, they have awarded high-priority contracts to a single company: United Launch Alliance (ULA). Elon Musk and his company perceive this to be a monopoly, and are suing the U.S. Government.

Tomorrow, the suit will be filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims and an official press release and documentation will be made public at www.freedomtolaunch.com. Musk argues that the ULA’s monopoly of Air Force launches will result in unnecessarily penalizing taxpayers to the tune of billions of dollars. “The national security launches should be put up for competition and they should not be awarded on a sole source, uncompeted basis,” he says. Last December, ULA secured a contract to sell 36 rocket cores to the Air Force for future endeavors. The “block buy” purchase is like buying in bulk and receiving a discount, while simultaneously denying other companies the ability to compete. The Air Force planned to award 14 more cores to other companie, but half of those, as mentioned, have been deferred.

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NASA Cuts Ties With Russia, Except For ISS

ISSEven though three new ISS crew members, including one American, launched into space aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule just over a week ago, NASA is calling a halt to many of its collaborative operations with Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, because of the worsening situation in the Ukraine. Fortunately, the one area in which the NASA will continue to work with Russia is on ISS operations. Soyuz is currently the only manned spacecraft that makes the trip, and the fallout of not cooperating with regards to the ISS is something NASA doesn’t want to put to the test, especially given that there are two Americans currently working at the ISS.

NASA made the move because of “Russia’s ongoing violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Space agency administrator Charles Bolden says that he doesn’t think Russia will try to prevent American access or communication with the ISS, and says that he believes Russia needs the U.S. as much as the U.S. needs Russia when it comes to maintaining operations. However, the halt of relations includes “NASA travel to Russia and visits by Russian Government representatives to NASA facilities, bilateral meetings, email, and teleconferences or videoconferences”—in other words, everything but the ISS.

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Dream Chaser Spaceplane Announces 2016 Launch

dream chaserFor a while, it looked like mega-bazillionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic would be the first company to get privately funded spaceflight successfully into space with crews and passengers, but not even a recent successful test flight can whitewash the constant delays that Virgin has suffered. Elon Musk’s SpaceX appears it will be the frontrunner, geared up for a 2015 launch. But should they fall behind schedule, Sierra Nevada Company will gladly capitalize with their Dream Chaser spacecraft, which will fire off on an automated orbital flight on November 1, 2016. Unless, you know, it doesn’t.

This decision to go forward with their flight plan comes just three months after a mostly successful prototype test flight ended with a “Whoops!” when part of the landing gear failed to deploy, sending the vehicle skidding off track. Really, that’s a pretty minimal problem, considering everything inside the plane itself remained intact, and all of the flight data was logged for the duration, which makes fixing the mistakes that much easier. And I guess the kinks are falling away with ease.

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