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Russian rocket worries could leave ISS standing empty

by at 29/08/2011 12:58

 

Russia’s rocket problems could leave the International Space Station unstaffed come November as NASA waits for progress on the fate of the Soyuz spacecraft.

Following last week’s crash which saw a Progress freighter fall to earth in Altai shortly after it was launched towards the ISS, safety fears have increased over the reliability of Russian craft servicing the orbital complex.

One week earlier Roskosmos saw a communications satellite go missing , the latest embarrassment for the country’s space agency.

And now US media reports say the worries over safety could halt manned launches of Soyuz craft, making it impossible to keep the space station fully operational.

 

Out in November?

The failure of last week’s Progress module means there is a potential shortage of supplies on the ISS.

Yet a planned trip to bring three of the six crew members back to Earth on Sep. 8 is set to be postponed until scientists establish exactly what went wrong with that flight.

According to NASA's Michael Saffredini there are enough resources to keep the astronauts safely in space until the end of October – but after that things get complicated, Interfax reported.

If further freighters cannot make the trip, and the next incoming team of astronauts does not arrive before the scheduled departure of the second half of the current crew on Nov. 16, the station will have to be left unmanned.

 

Weather concerns

In theory it would be possible to keep a three-man crew on the station into December, but there are practical concerns about bringing them back to earth in the middle of winter.

Returning astronauts typically land in remote parts of the Kazakh steppe, and are collected and taken to the Baikonur space complex.

But in the teeth of the Kazakh winter a search and rescue operation could be complicated by extreme weather conditions, making NASA reluctant to rely on this.

 

Few alternatives

Before this year the US Space Shuttles were also part of the fleet which serviced the ISS, and made regular journeys to bring staff and supplies to the space science lab.

But those craft have now been retired, meaning Russia’s rockets are the only remaining link between land and orbit.

With concerns raised about the fuel supply in the Soyuz launcher which failed last week, the future of the ISS is now under some question.

Read other articles of the print issue "The Moscow News #66"
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