Thursday, October 13, 2011

NASA Confident In Next Soyuz Launch

Following the introduction of a new set safety procedures the Russians say they are ready to launch a Progress re-supply vehicle to the International Space Station later this month followed by a crewed Soyuz vehicle in early November, and NASA is in favor of both.

The Russian space program, the only program capable of putting an astronaut in orbit and/or visiting the ISS, was temporarily halted this past summer following the loss of two Progress spacecraft. This proved problematic for NASA which found itself suddenly facing the prospect of de-manning the ISS for the first time in more than a decade.

Russian officials said they have identified and fixed the problem with the Progress rocket motors and are confident in the new system they have put in place to maintain safety. NASA officials have reviewed the Russian investigation and results agree the new system is safer and more reliable.

This is good news for anyone interested in getting astronauts into orbit. Of course this only returns us to a one-spacecraft system. It doesn't address the fact that NASA is still years away from having its own manned space vehicle, much less conducting missions beyond low earth orbit.

The Russian investigation determined that low fuel feed to the gas generator in the Soyuz's third-stage engine likely caused the Progress 44 crash. The fuel feed issue may have been caused by contamination in the fuel line or a valve.

After consulting in depth with the Russians, NASA formed its own team to look into the Soyuz problem, Gerstenmaier said.

"They did kind of a background check to make sure that the conclusions the Russians were drawing were reasonable," Gerstenmaier said. "We completed that review today within the agency, and we agree with the basic Russian findings."

Since the Progress 44 incident, the Russians have boosted their quality-control efforts, Gerstenmaier added. For example, they've increased the number of people inspecting Soyuz rockets and are videotaping some key assembly operations at the factory.

The engines for the next two Soyuz launches — the unmanned Progress 45 cargo mission on Oct. 30 and the Nov. 14 crewed mission — were built under the newer, stricter oversight, Gerstenmaier said.

Click here to read more about the Russian investigation and NASA's decision.

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