NASA considers SpaceX as a backup plan to crew aboard Russia’s Soyuz leaky ship

NASA has begun to explore whether SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Spacecraft could offer an alternate ride home for crew members of the International Space Station. This is after a Russian spacecraft suffered a coolant leakage while docked at the orbital laboratory.

Roscosmos (Russia’s space agency) and NASA are currently investigating the problem of an internal radiator on Russia’s Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft. The spacecraft is expected to bring its crew of two Russian cosmonauts to Earth in early 2013.

The Dec. 14 leak that emptied Soyuz’s vital fluid, used to control crew cabin temperature, has halted Russia’s space station routines. Engineers in Moscow are now evaluating whether or not to launch another Soyuz, to rescue the three-man flight team who flew to ISS on the MS-22 ship.

NASA will consider other options if Russia is unable to launch another Soyuz vessel or determines that it would be risky.

NASA spokeswoman Sandra Jones stated in a statement that she had asked SpaceX a few queries about their ability to send additional Dragon crew members back to Earth if needed.

SpaceX didn’t respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

NASA didn’t specify what they wanted to know about SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capabilities. For example, whether SpaceX can increase its crew capability or launch an empty capsule to rescue the crew.

However, the possibility of NASA’s involvement in Russian-led missions highlights the level of care NASA takes to make sure its astronauts return safely to Earth.

Leaky Soyuz capsule carried Frank Rubio, U.S. astronaut and two cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev (cosmonaut) to the station for a six-month mission. The crew was scheduled to return home in March 2023.

Four other astronauts from NASA arrived at the station in October, along with a Russian cosmonaut, two additional NASA crewmembers, and a Japanese astronaut. They were transported to orbit by a NASA-contracted SpaceX Dragon capsule. It is still parked at ISS.

The Crew Dragon capsule of SpaceX, which is a pod-shaped gumdrop with four astronaut seats and has been the centerpiece of NASA’s efforts to send humans into low-Earth orbit, has been named SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. It can transport people to and from the station, unlike Russia’s Soyuz program.

The leak’s cause could be used to determine the best route for crew members. NASA and Roscosmos have investigated three possibilities for the leak: a meteoroid-caused puncture or strike by a piece of space debris, as well as hardware problems on Soyuz.

Roscosmos could be questioned about hardware failures, which would raise more questions, according to Mike Suffredini. He was NASA’s ISS Program Director for ten years, from 2010 until 2015.

He said, “I can guarantee you that they are looking into it to determine if there is a concern.” The thing about Russians is that they are very good at not speaking about their activities, but they also have a great work ethic.

Roscosmos Chief Yuri Borisov stated that engineers would determine by Tuesday whether to send the crew back to Earth. However, the agency claimed it would take the final decision on January.

NASA previously stated that the capsule’s temperature remains “within acceptable limits”. The crew compartment is currently vented and airflow is allowed to flow through an open hatch at the ISS.

Sergei Krikalev (Russia’s head of crewed programs) told reporters last week the temperature would quickly rise if the hatch at the station was closed.

Roscosmos and NASA are currently focusing on finding the source of the leak, Jones stated. They also want to assess the health and safety of MS-22, Jones explained. MS-22 is meant as the crew’s rescue boat in the event that an emergency occurs on the station.

The possibility of a recent meteor shower raising the chances that a micrometeoroid strike was the cause initially appeared to increase, however, NASA’s ISS manager Joel Montalbano said last week to reporters, although a space rock may have originated from another direction.

If a space debris fragment is responsible, this could raise concerns about an ever more messy orbital environment. It also may prompt questions as to whether the coolant line of such critical equipment should have been shielded by debris shielding as it was for other components of the MS-22 spacecraft.

Suffredini stated that “we are not protected against all the dangers of the space station.” We can’t protect against all.”


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