Despite the expected return of the launch capability of US national crews this year, NASA is preparing to purchase more rides on the Russian Soyuz by 2020. The agency adheres to a recommendation from its Aerospace Safety Advisory Group (ASAP) after being worried about the lack of an emergency option covering the potential delays that may be experienced during a tough test flight phase for Dragon 2 and Starliner.
The United States has been using the Soyuz vehicle as a means of transportation for its astronauts since the withdrawal of the Space Shuttle Park in 2011. However, NASA's use of the Soyuz vehicle as a back-up solution has a historic precedent, including its role. vital in transportation during the grounding of the shuttle fleet following the loss of Columbia in 2003.
The gap between the conclusion of STS-135 and the launch by the Americans of the second Dragon 2 flight – the favorite "Capture the Flag" rating left on the ISS by the Atlantis crew – is expected to end this summer.
However, this will depend on the outcome of several major milestones, including the first unprepared test flight for both crew suppliers.
SpaceX Dragon 2 and Boeing's Starliner vehicles are both committed to making their crew launch capability in the US, SpaceX's new vehicle being the first to launch the launch of the DM-1, which currently targets NET (no earlier than) on March 2nd.
A Key Agency Readiness Review (FRR) is scheduled for next week. This milestone will allow SpaceX to continue the published launch target or call for the correction of "Actions to be taken" before the flight, which can lead to a launch slip and possibly a second review, called Delta. FRR, to approve the repair work.
The Starliner schedule is much smoother, with its unprepared test flight (OFT-1 – Orbital Flight Test -1) poorly scheduled for the April / May period, while the CFT-1 (Flight Test of crew -1) has a reserved location in August, but may occur much later. NASA hinted at Starliner's smoother schedule by putting more emphasis on the "NET" nature of its dates, compared to the firmer Dragon 2 calendar.
The two vehicles are also scheduled to successfully complete another abortion flight milestone, with SpaceX scheduled for a flight abortion test in June, while Starliner must pass a NET run-off test, which will involve a system. recently reorganized a major problem in last year's tests, which placed additional strain on its schedule.
Even if all milestones have passed brilliantly, a natural lengthening of the calendar is almost inevitable. As such, NASA may experience a period during which no American astronaut will be transported to the ISS. This week, this week's actions are going forward with recommendations calling for the purchase of at least two additional seats on the Soyuz.
"Past experience has shown the difficulties associated with making the first flights at the scheduled time in the last year of development. Generally, problems will be discovered during these test flights. The consequences of the absence of an American crew on ISS deserve to be protected by the acquisition of additional seats. The absence of US crew members at any time would reduce the operations of the ISS to an inoperable state, "notes a procurement document released Feb. 13.
"NASA plans to contract with the state space company" Roscosmos "for these services on a single basis to provide two (2) Soyuz seats and services associated with the International Space Station (ISS) on the Russian vehicle Soyuz. This transportation would be for a crew member in the fall of 2019 and a crew member in the spring of 2020. "
The two seats of autumn 2019 and spring 2020 seem to refer to the Soyuz MS-15 and MS-16 flights. Soyuz MS-15 currently has its third seat occupied by a paying attendee – who will likely be replaced by a crew member from the US Permanent Station – and Soyuz MS-16 is a scheduled flight for two people with a third vacant seat available.
Although the action does not indicate an increase in uncertainty about the progress made by commercial team suppliers, it does however evoke the wish to avoid imposing Business calendar constraints, a problem that still haunts NASA after determining that it had played a direct role. role in the loss of the Challenger shuttle in 1986.
"This acquisition of Soyuz seats ensures uninterrupted access to ISS in the event of delays in US commercial aircraft launches, thereby mitigating the significant risk to the security and operations of the ISS that could be caused by the absence of members. American crew. Obtaining this Soyuz transport provides flexibility and backup capability without unnecessarily burdening the schedules of our commercial team suppliers in the United States, "the document adds.
"The Aerospace Safety Advisory Group recommended that NASA provide additional backup capability should US crews be delayed. This will also ensure that NASA meets its own needs for crew transportation and its obligations to the international partnership. In ten months, in December 2019, the USOS will no longer be present aboard the ISS if no action is taken. These two seats would allow the American crew to remain on board the ISS until September 2020. "
As such, the purchase is almost certain to be approved, even with the hope that the schedule of the commercial crew program will not be seriously delayed. This would allow the action to become a cautious overlap of capacity as opposed to a temporary replacement of access to the launch of the station.
"Given the current state of the US trade agenda, this date should allow for an overlap of capabilities and protect the continued operation of the ISS." An overlap with the capabilities of the US commercial crew is needed to allow a smooth and safe transition to a new US capability, "added NASA.
"Even after the US team program has completed its testing program, history has shown that it is difficult to develop an operational flight rate." Launch delays will occur. This overlap in the crew's transport capacity ensures the safety of operations and ongoing research activities on ISS. "
While the Russians are the only ISS crewing services provider, government rules require NASA to publish the summary to determine whether other potential sources currently have the capacity to provide these transportation services. crew on time.
This requirement resulted in the addition of an almost comical claim to "other interested organizations" to write to the government by February 28 at the latest, which incidentally indicates the pace at which NASA Expecting to advance the purchase of Soyuz seats at such a low price is unlikely to be published.
In addition, the upcoming launch of Soyuz – the Soyuz MS-12 – passed its Flight Readiness Exam (FRR) on Friday, before its launch on 14 March to the ISS.
This launch will allow Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin and NASA astronaut Nick Hague to attempt to reach the ISS again, following the unsuccessful launch of the Soyuz MS-10. They will be joined by Christina Koch.