The International Space Station’s -led mission management team is tracking a Russian investigation into the ground test failure of the Soyuz spacecraft assigned for the next crew launch to the orbiting science lab, and whether the failed pressure check earlier this month will affect future six-person staffing.
Russian news media have reported potential delays of a month or more in the scheduled March 29 liftoff of the Soyuz TMA-04M capsule with a three-man U.S. and Russian crew, citing high-ranking officials from, the Russian federal space agency.
“We will work with our partners to deal with whatever the issue is and coordinate with them on opportunities for launching, but at this point it’s too early to speculate on what that might be,” Kelly Humphries, a spokesman for’s international space station program, said Jan. 31. “I’ve seen the reports. So far, the program has not made any decision relative to changes.”
NASA station program officials are being updated on the ongoing investigation this week and planning an independent assessment of the Russian findings, he said.
Humphries noted that the 200 days of on-orbit life for the two Soyuz spacecraft currently docked to the station and serving as lifeboats would permit lengthy extensions for the current six-man U.S., Russian and European crew to preserve full staffing during a recovery.
The Soyuz TMA-22 spacecraft that launched Dan Burbank, Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin on Nov. 13 could remain at the station until the end of May under the lifetime limit. They are currently scheduled to descend on March 16. The Soyuz TMA-03M that launched on Dec. 21 with Don Pettit, Oleg Kononenko and Andre Kuipers could remain in orbit into early July under the 200-day restriction. They are currently due to land on May 16.
According to Russian media reports, including Itar-Tass, the state’s central information agency, a service element was deformed during an altitude test chamber test of the TMA-04M’s descent module at the Energia Space Rocket Corp., in late January.
The Aug. 24 third-stage failure of a Soyuz-U booster led to the loss of a Progress resupply craft destined for the space station and suspension of the similar Soyuz-FG rocket assigned to crew launches.
The recovery prompted three months of three-person station operations in late 2011. A Russian investigation concluded a fuel line blockage led to the Progress loss.