Russia Agrees To Station Crew Seat Exchange

Credit: NASA

The Russian government has cleared state-owned Roscosmos to sign a long-delayed agreement with NASA for cosmonauts to fly on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsules in exchange for astronauts joining Russian Soyuz crews. 

The seat-swap agreement is intended to ensure that the International Space Station (ISS) is staffed by at least one crewmember from each country should a technical issue or a medical emergency disrupt either country’s crew transportation service.

The agreement most recently was delayed in May after Russian government agencies objected to a crew-seat swap amid deteriorating relations with the U.S. due to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, Roscosmos CEO Dmitry Rogozin said at the time. 

A government decree published on June 10 said that the decision on the ISS crew seat-swap agreement is now supported by “the Russian Foreign Ministry and other concerned federal government authorities.”

Rogozin said on social media June 11 that Roscosmos still supports cosmonaut Anna Kikina to be the first Russian to fly the SpaceX Crew Dragon. She is now officially assigned to the Soyuz MS-22 crew with mission commander Sergey Prokopyev and flight engineer Dmitry Petelin. Their launch is targeted for Sept. 21 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

“We wait for the American side to suggest a U.S. astronaut candidate to join the Russian crew,” Rogozin wrote. 

Roscosmos indicated earlier this year that Kikina’s seat in Soyuz MS-22 could be taken by NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, pending NASA approval. 

Kikina was earlier expected to join the Crew-5 mission slated for launch in September. She and her backup, Andrey Fedyaev, completed Crew Dragon training earlier this year. According to Rogozin, she is now “taking additional training under the NASA program.”

NASA ISS Program Manager Joel Montalbano told reporters in May that NASA intended to make a final decision in mid- to late-June about who would fill the fourth seat on Crew-5. 

Due to delays in signing the crew-seat swap agreement, Kikina may not be able to join Crew-5. A source from the Russian space industry explained to Aerospace DAILY that the female cosmonaut flying on the U.S. spaceship was seen as an encouraging sign regarding continued U.S.-Russian cooperation in space. Kikina could join a future SpaceX Dragon crew if final negotiations between Roscosmos and NASA are protracted.

According to the source, Soyuz MS-22 is planned as an all-Russian crew mission, so Kikina’s seat could be taken by Fedyaev, her backup.

The last U.S. astronaut to travel to the ISS aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft was NASA’s Mark Vande Hei. He arrived at the station aboard the Soyuz MS-18 capsule in April 2021 and returned to the Earth almost a year later, in March 2022, as part of the Soyuz MS-19 crew.

His seat on the Russian capsule was purchased by NASA through the privately owned Axiom Space. In a June 11 interview with Rossiya-24 TV channel, Rogozin said Axiom Space had paid 2 billion rubles ($35 million) for the flight.