SpaceX’s astronaut taxi may get a shield upgrade.
NASA officials said during a news conference Wednesday (January 25) that NASA is considering asking SpaceX to bolster existing protection for the company’s Crew Dragon capsule after something tore a small hole in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in December 2022.
The hit, most likely caused by a small meteorite, occurred while the Soyuz was docked to the International Space Station (ISS), where it remains today. The collision caused a coolant leak that made the Soyuz spacecraft, known as MS-22, unsafe to take the astronauts home except in an emergency.
So the Russian space agency Roscosmos decided to launch an empty Soyuz ship on February 20 to bring the three MS-22 crew members back to Earth. That trip is expected to take place in September, about six months after the trio’s original scheduled return home.
Related: International Space Station: live updates
Discussions with SpaceX are still in their infancy; The idea of boosting the shield was just brought up on Tuesday (January 24) at a regularly scheduled trade meeting, said Steve Stitch, program manager for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
“We started talking a bit – is there anything we can do now?” He said at Wednesday’s press conference, which provided an update on International Space Station operations and SpaceX’s next mission to the station, Crew-6, which is scheduled to lift off on February 26.
SpaceX’s Sarah Walker said the company is in line with NASA’s goals. Walker, director of Dragon mission management, also emphasized that all analyzes so far show Crew Dragon docked to the International Space Station now, called Endurance, doing well.
“Dragon systems are healthy and operating nominally,” Walker said during Wednesday’s news conference about Endurance, which launched to the orbiting lab last October on SpaceX’s Crew-5 mission for NASA.
Roscosmos officials say the damaged Soyuz MS-22 can accommodate two of its three crew members if an emergency calls for an evacuation of the International Space Station. However, the return to Earth would be warm without a cooler. The two people who will make this flight on MS-22 are cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petlin. The third crew member, NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, will join the four Endurance crew five astronauts in a “lifeboat” scenario.
NASA officials said Wednesday that NASA considered several safety questions before approving a Rubio seat liner for the transition from Soyuz MS-22 to Endurance, including making sure there is enough oxygen in the SpaceX craft, that carbon dioxide can be reduced and that the landing It will happen safely. .
SpaceX originally designed the Crew Dragon to carry up to seven people. But Endurance is equipped with only four seats, and securing Rubio as an unexpected fifth crew member required a clever change of supplies into orbit.
“We looked into taking some of the cargo straps from CRS-26 already,” said Stitch, pointing to the SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule now docked on the International Space Station. “We were able to put the straps over Frank and then the seat liner, if we needed to, and then screw it into the Dragon floor,” he added.
The empty Soyuz, known as MS-23, will be launched during what NASA Associate Administrator Kathy Lueders called “one of the busiest hikes in the station’s history” during Wednesday’s news conference.
Among the many scheduled crewed launches to the International Space Station in the first half of 2022 is a crew flight test, the first astronaut mission for Boeing’s Starliner capsule. the SpaceX-6 crew; and Ax-2, the second manned mission to the orbiting laboratory by the private company Axiom Space.
The Crew-6 will see the Dragon Endeavor, the first Emirati astronaut on a long-duration mission (Sultan Al Neyadi). Other crewmates are NASA astronauts Stephen Bowen and Warren Hoburg, and Russian cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev.
The Soyuz MS-22 crew will also see their time in space double to a year in orbit while they wait for the Soyuz crew to launch later in 2023 to ease off from their duties on the International Space Station. Current forecast for MS-22 landing in late September.
Elizabeth Howell is co-author of “Why am I taller (Opens in a new tab)? (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book on space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @tweet (Opens in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @tweet (Opens in a new tab) or Facebook (Opens in a new tab).
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