NASA mulls SpaceX backup plan for crew of Russia's leaky Soyuz ship

NASA is exploring whether or not SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft can doubtlessly current an various experience dwelling for some crew members of the worldwide space Station after a Russian capsule sprang a coolant leak whereas docked to the orbital lab.

NASA and Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, are investigating the motive for a punctured coolant line on an exterior radiator of Russia’s Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft, which is alleged to return its crew of two cosmonauts and one U.S. astronaut to Earth early subsequent yr.

nonetheless the Dec. 14 leak, which emptied the Soyuz of a huge fluid used to handle crew cabin temperatures, has derailed Russia’s space station routines, with engineers in Moscow analyzing whether or not to launch one other Soyuz to retrieve the three-man staff that flew to ISS aboard the crippled MS-22 craft.

If Russia can’t launch one other Soyuz ship, or decides for some motive that doing so could be too dangerous, NASA is weighing one other selection.

“we now have requested SpaceX simply a few questions on their performance to return extra crew members on Dragon, if vital, however that will not be our prime focus presently,” NASA spokesperson Sandra Jones mentioned in a press launch to Reuters.

SpaceX did not reply to a Reuters request for remark.

It was unclear what NASA particularly requested of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capabilities, comparable to whether or not the agency can uncover a method to enhance the crew performance of the Dragon presently docked to the station, or launch an empty capsule for the crew’s rescue.

nonetheless the agency’s potential involvement in a mission led by Russia underscores the diploma of precaution NASA is taking to guarantee its astronauts can safely return to Earth, ought to one in every of the selection contingency plans organized by Russia fall by.

NASA astronaut Frank Rubio and Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin walk side by side.
From left: NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, Roscosmos cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev and Roscosmos cosmonaut Dmitri Petelin are proven prior the launch of Soyuz MS-22 mission on Sept. 21. (Yuri Kochetkov/The associated Press)

The leaky Soyuz capsule ferried U.S. astronaut Frank Rubio and cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin to the space station in September for a six-month mission. They have been scheduled to return in March 2023.

The station’s 4 fully different crew members — two extra from NASA, a third Russian cosmonaut and a Japanese astronaut — arrived in October through a NASA-contracted SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, which additionally stays parked on the ISS.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, a gumdrop-shaped pod with 4 astronaut seats, has develop to be the centerpiece to NASA’s human spaceflight efforts in low-Earth orbit. in addition to Russia’s Soyuz program, it is the one entity ready to ferrying people to the space station and again.

three doable culprits

discovering what brought about the leak might challenge into selections about one in every of the best doable methods to return the crew members. A meteoroid-brought about puncture, a strike from a piece of space particles or a hardware failure on the Soyuz capsule itself are three doable causes of the leak that NASA and Roscosmos are investigating.

A hardware malfunction might elevate extra questions for Roscosmos with regard to the integrity of fully different Soyuz automobiles, comparable to the one it’d ship for the crew’s rescue, mentioned Mike Suffredini, who led NASA’s ISS program for a decade till 2015.

“I can guarantee you that is one factor they’re taking a look at, to see what’s again there and whether or not there is a precedence for it,” he mentioned. “The factor with regard to the Russians is that they’re actually good at not talking about what they’re doing, however they’re very thorough.”

Image of SpaceX Crew Dragon
on this picture from video made obtainable by NASA, a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule approaches the worldwide space Station on Oct. 6. (NASA)

Roscosmos chief Yuri Borisov had beforehand mentioned engineers would resolve by Tuesday discover out how to return the crew to Earth, nonetheless the agency mentioned that day it’d make the selection in January.

NASA has beforehand mentioned the capsule’s temperatures stay “inside acceptable limits,” with its crew compartment presently being vented with air movement allowed by an open hatch to the ISS.

Sergei Krikalev, Russia’s chief of crewed space packages, instructed reporters final week that the temperature would rise quickly if the hatch to the station have been closed.

NASA and Roscosmos are primarily specializing in figuring out the leak’s set off, Jones mentioned, as properly as to the well being of MS-22 which might even be meant to function the three-man crew’s lifeboat in case an emergency on the station requires evacuation.

A current meteor bathe initially appeared to carry the possibilities of a micrometeoroid strike as a outcome of the offender, nonetheless the leak was going by the flawed method for that to be the case, NASA’s ISS program supervisor Joel Montalbano instructed reporters final week, although an space rock might have come from one other path.

And if a piece of space particles is responsible, it might gasoline factors of an more and more messy orbital setting and carry questions on whether or not such important gear as a outcome of the spacecraft’s coolant line ought to have been protected by particles shielding, as fully different elements of the MS-22 spacecraft are.

“we’re not shielded in the direction of all the pieces all by the space station,” Suffredini mentioned. “we will not defend in the direction of all the pieces.”


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