Friday, October 28, 2011
Upcoming Russian Progress cargo flight first since August failure
Russia is poised to re-open the critical supply line to the International Space Station with a cargo launch on Sunday that will be the first since a launch failure of a similar craft on August 24. The Progress freighter is scheduled for a 6:11 a.m. EDT (1011 GMT) liftoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan
The failed motor was very similar to those on the venerable but proven Soyuz rockets; currently the only spacecraft available to ferry crews to the orbiting outpost. NASA now pays the Russians $350 million per year following the retirement of the space shuttle fleet.
Staffing levels at the station were cut due to uncertainty over the reliability of the rocket’s upper stage. Manned flights were suspended after the Progress failure, reducing the space station’s crew from the normal complement of 6 to 3, for an indefinite and possibly extended period of time.
Reuters reported that the Russians had traced the cause of the previous Progress flight failure to possible debris and clogging in a fuel line and have performed additional inspections and are confident in their spacecraft.
"Things happen during launches. They are very dramatic and they get everyone's attention," NASA astronaut Mark Polansky, director of operations in Russia, told Reuters. "What is important is to say, 'OK, there is a problem' and make sure it is fully analyzed and we truly understand what the real root cause is," Polansky said.
If Sunday's launch is successful, a new crew would fly to the outpost on November 13. Their arrival on November 15 leaves just six days before the current crew is scheduled to depart. Their replacements would launch between December 21 and 26.