Freighter failure causes space plans overhaul

The Russian Space Agency has reviewed its launch schedule after the crash of the Progress space freighter. It will affect the transport of crew members to and from the ISS because the agency naturally wants to be sure its rockets are safe.

The next manned flight to the International Space Station, which was scheduled for September 22, will happen in late October or early November, head of Roscosmos’ Manned Missions Department Aleksey Krasnov said on Monday.

“The date of the launch will be settled after the commission finishes its work,” he said.

The change will affect the current ISS expedition. Half of its six crew members will have to stay in orbit for an extra week before returning to Earth, the official said. The landing will be postponed from the initial date of September 8 to approximately September 16.

The three people to return are Russian cosmonauts Andrey Borisenko and Aleksandr Samokutyaev and NASA astronaut Ronald Garan.

Krasnov assured that the crew will have no problems with supplies as a result of the Progress failure.

“The station has enough resources to support six people for three months,” he said, adding that the ISS may be left unmanned only as a matter of last resort.

“If for any reason we are unable to deliver the crew by the end of November, we will have to consider all options, including the work of the station in an unmanned mode,” he said.

He added that future crew selection and training will be shifted accordingly, but did not elaborate on how the space missions will be further affected. Earlier, industry sources speculated that the three crewmembers remaining on board the ISS by the end of September would have to extend their mission by four weeks due to the revision of the launch schedule.

The Progress spacecraft crashed on August 24 after its launch on a mission to deliver fresh supplies to the International Space Station. The Soyuz-U rocket which carried it has the same engine as the Soyuz-FG, which delivers the manned spacecraft Soyuz-TMA to the orbit.

The accident was caused by a malfunction in the gas generator in the Soyuz carrier rocket’s third-stage engine, reported Russia’s Federal Space Agency. The spaceship’s fall area is now being searched for further debris from the crash.

Roscosmos wants to be sure that the failure was not due to the engine before giving the green light to manned launches. It will perform several test launches of the rocket in the weeks to come.

NASA said that astronauts may need to leave the International Space Station if Russian Soyuz rockets remain grounded beyond mid-November.

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