NASA mulls SpaceX safety plan for Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft crew

NASA mulls SpaceX safety plan for Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft crew

  • NASA asks SpaceX about its Crew Dragon backup capabilities
  • NASA, the Russian space agency, is investigating the cause of the Soyuz leak
  • The return trip of the three-man Soyuz crew from the space station is unclear

WASHINGTON, Dec 28 (Reuters) – NASA is exploring whether SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft can provide an alternative trip home for some crew members of the International Space Station after a Russian capsule produced a coolant leak while docked to the orbital laboratory.

NASA and the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, are investigating the cause of a punctured coolant line in an external radiator on the Russian Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft, which is supposed to return its crew of two cosmonauts and an astronaut American on Earth early next year.

But on December 14 escape, that drained the Soyuz of a vital fluid used to regulate the temperature of the crew cabin has derailed the routines of Russia’s space station, with engineers in Moscow considering whether to launch another Soyuz to retrieve the equipment of three men who flew to the ISS aboard the crippled MS-22 spacecraft. .

If Russia can’t launch another Soyuz ship, or decides for some reason that doing so would be too risky, NASA is weighing another option.

“We have asked SpaceX some questions about their ability to return additional crew members to Dragon if necessary, but that is not our primary focus at this time,” NASA spokeswoman Sandra Jones said in a statement to Reuters .

SpaceX did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.

It was unclear what NASA specifically asked about SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capabilities, such as whether the company can find a way to increase the crew capacity of the Dragon currently docked at the station or launch an empty capsule for the crew rescue.

But the company’s possible involvement in a Russian-led mission underscores the degree of caution NASA is taking to ensure its astronauts can safely return to Earth, should one of the other Russian-arranged contingency plans fail is achieved

The leaky Soyuz capsule carried American astronaut Frank Rubio and cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dimitri Petelin to the space station in September for a six-month mission. They were scheduled to return to Earth in March 2023.

The other four members of the station’s crew — two more from NASA, a third Russian cosmonaut and a Japanese astronaut — arrived in October via a NASA-contracted SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, which also remains stationed at the ‘ISS.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, a rubber-like pod that seats four astronauts, has become the centerpiece of NASA’s human spaceflight efforts in low Earth orbit. Besides Russia’s Soyuz program, it is the only entity capable of transporting humans to the space station and back.


Finding what caused the leak could inform decisions about how best to return the crew members. A puncture caused by meteorites, a hit by a piece of space debris or a hardware failure in the Soyuz capsule itself are three possible causes of the leak that NASA and Roscosmos are investigating.

A hardware malfunction could raise additional questions for Roscosmos about the integrity of other Soyuz vehicles, such as the one it might send for crew rescue, said Mike Suffredini, who led NASA’s ISS program for a decade until 2015.

“I can assure you that’s something they’re looking at, to see what’s behind it and if there’s a concern,” he said. “The thing about the Russians is that they’re very good at not talking about what they’re doing, but they’re very thorough.”

Roscosmos chief Yuri Borisov had previously said engineers would decide on Tuesday how to return the crew to Earth, but the agency said it would make a decision on that day in January.

NASA has previously said the capsule’s temperatures remain “within acceptable limits,” with its crew compartment currently ventilated with the airflow allowed through an open hatch on the ISS.

Sergei Krikalev, the head of Russia’s manned space programs, told reporters last week that the temperature would rise rapidly if the station’s hatch was closed.

NASA and Roscosmos are primarily focused on determining the cause of the leak, Jones said, as well as the health of MS-22, which is also intended to serve as a lifeboat for the three-man crew in case that an emergency at the station requires evacuation.

A recent meteor shower initially seemed to raise the odds of a micrometeoroid strike as the culprit, but the leak was facing the wrong way for that to be the case, NASA’s ISS program director Joel Montalbano told the reporters last week, though a space rock might have been there. come from another direction.

And if a piece of space debris is to blame, it could fuel concerns about an increasingly messy orbital environment and raise questions about whether equipment as vital as the spacecraft’s coolant line should have been protected by a debris shielding, like other parts of the MS-22. spaceships are

“We’re not protected against the whole space station,” Suffredini said. “We can’t protect against everything.”

Reporting by Joey Roulette; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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