Managers Still Assessing How Progress Crash Will Affect ISS Operations


Today’s loss of a Russian Progress re-supply ship to the International Space Station will likely have implications to the ISS and crew, said NASA’s Mike Suffredini, who is the space station program manager. But, just how the entire program will be affected is yet to be determined. “We are in a good position, and can go several months without a re-supply vehicle if necessary, due to the supplies delivered by the last shuttle flight,” said Suffredini.

This first post-shuttle era launch of a Progress cargo abruptly ended at about six minutes into the flight when an engine anomaly prompted an engine shutdown, just before the third stage of the Soyuz rocket ignited. The rocket and ship crashed to Earth in eastern Russia, in a sparsely populated area in the Choisk region of the Republic of Altai. No injuries have been reported so far.

“Our Russian colleagues have immediately begun the process of assessing implications of the program and ISS crew, and to assess the data that’s available to try to determine root cause,” Suffredini said at a press briefing shortly after the malfunction. He added everyone is now trying hard “to give our Russian colleagues time to gather data and sort it out and find important details.”

Suffredini said they normally have 30 days of contingency supplies on board, and with the latest (and final) shuttle resupply, they have at least 40-50 extra days of supplies for the current crew. “We’re in a good position logistically to withstand this loss of supplies,” Suffredini said. “And in fact, I would tell you we can go several months without a resupply vehicle if that becomes necessary.”

Since the Russian Soyuz crew module also flies on a Soyuz rocket, albeit a different version, the implications for crew rotation are not yet known, and Russian teams are gathering data to sort out the cause of the malfunction to the normally reliable spacecraft.

Suffredini said the current crew can stay on board extra time if necessary; if a delay for next Soyuz crew goes longer than anticipated, they will bring part of crew home and operate the ISS with crew of three.

Another Progress cargo ship is scheduled to fly in October; Suffredini said if the problem is figured out rather soon, it could probably fly earlier to make up for the loss of this current ship. Additionally, a European ATV supply ship is scheduled to launch in March 2012 and a Japanese HTV cargo ship will likely launch in May 2012.

“There are things we can do to extend our current supplies, but we have no concerns in that area even if nothing flies before ATV in March 2012,” Suffredini said.

The Progress was carrying 2.9 tons of supplies, mainly fuel for a planned station re-boost, water, hygiene supplies, food and other various supplies. Suffredini said no science experiments were on board the Progress, and that there should be enough fuel on board the ISS to do a re-boost, as well as any space debris avoidance maneuvers that might become necessary.

The biggest problem might be a shortage of what Suffredini called “potty supplies,” extra parts and equipment for the bathroom on the station. The specialized toilet includes hardware designed to recycle urine into drinking water.

Currently, Expedition 29 is scheduled to launch for the ISS on Sept. 22, 2011 with a crew of Anton Shkaplerov, Anatoly Ivanishin and Dan Burbank, launching aboard the Soyuz TMA-22 spacecraft. But that launch schedule will be assessed in light of today’s launch failure.

This was the second launch failure in a row — and within a week — for the Russian space program. The Breeze-M upper stage of a Proton rocket malfunctioned last Thursday, putting a communications satellite in the wrong orbit.

9 Replies to “Managers Still Assessing How Progress Crash Will Affect ISS Operations”

  1. The specialized toilet includes hardware designed to recycle urine into drinking water.

    If homeopathy actually works, then how come that recycled water does not retain its ‘memory’?

  2. It’s interesting that Russia has grounded its fleet of Proton-M rockets after a recent launch failure:

    Progress vehicles use Soyuz launch vehicles (notably the Soyuz-U: ).

    Still, quality control issues seem to be part of the problem with both of these systems. Let’s hope the Russians can successfully address whatever issues caused the failures ASAP.

    1. The different variants of Briz-M has had multiple recent failures.

      I agree that dependent failure seems the most reasonable hypotheses. It is notable though that the Soyuz launcher may be “old school” reliable, but it has twice the failure rate the STS system had. And STS that was compromised to be a bucket of bolts.

      These things will happen, until safer designs such as Falcon 9/Heavy is used. Ironically I think the first large rocket, the V2, may have had the safest engine design of them all.* The engine was a composite of hundreds of small engines. Talk about burn-out redundancy!

      1. First I want to see evidence that the Falcon 9 is safer in design. Like a couple of launches. It is a commercial company, they would say anything to get more investors.

  3. I’m certain the crew is safe (return vehicles attached to ISS) and ISS too (as Ken Lord tells us). Even the space loo have backups; they are flush with them even if they are not flushable (plastic bags and portholes).

    My main concern then is and remain that the SpaceX COTS 2&3 mission will not be moved or postponed indefinitely.

    “We are in a good position, and can go several months without a re-supply vehicle if necessary, due to the supplies delivered by the last shuttle flight,” said Suffredini.

    Yes, but that also means that we are in the position to having to use capital because the new supply lines are inferior. Not a good sign.

    This will make the COTS program look good.

    Unfortunately the VASIMR VF-200 to replace (I think) the Shuttle/ATV boosts have slipped another year to 2014 earliest. (At least I think 2013 was mentioned earlier for that addition to ISS.)

  4. Well if this is the first time its failed since 1978 then I would presume its actually more reliable than the Space Shuttle… What do you think ?

Comments are closed.