The next two launches of crews to the International Space Station will each be postponed by about 45 days, due to an air leak found during testing of the descent module of the Soyuz spacecraft. An official from the Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, said they will need to build a reserve capsule, and they will confer with NASA ISS program managers on Thursday to clarify the exact launch dates.
The current mission on the ISS will also likely be extended, with the crew’s departure also about 30-45 days later than the previously scheduled date of March 16. Alexei Krasnov from Roscosmos said the delays should not be a problem because the crew currently on the ISS had initially been assigned an “unusually short expedition” of 120 days.
“I think their return and the launch of the next crew (Expedition 31/32) will be pushed back by a month or a month-and-a-half,” he said, quoted by the Russian RIA Novosti news agency, adding that the mission that was scheduled for liftoff on June 1 (Expedition 32/33) will also likely be delayed.
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As we reported last week, the Soyuz TMA–04M experienced problems during a test in an altitude test chamber at the Energia Space Rocket Corporation, with a leak in the descent, or re-entry module.
The three ISS crewmembers scheduled to launch for Expedition 31 are Russians Gennady Padakla and Sergei Rivin and NASA astronaut Joseph Acaba, who will be replacing Expedition 30 crewmates Anton Shkaplerov, Anatoli Ivanishin and Dan Burbank, who arrived at the station in November, 2011, and were initially scheduled to return to Earth on March 16. However, since their own launch was delayed, their Soyuz craft does have some margin before exceeding its on-orbit certified life.
The Expedition 32 crew, scheduled to launch on the Soyuz TMA-05M are Suni Williams from NASA, Yuri Malenchenko from Russia, and Akihiko Hoshide from Japan.
Russia now holds the sole ticket for getting cosmonauts and astronauts to the ISS. The Soyuz capsules, along with the Progress re-supply ships had been notorious for their reliability, but since the retirement of the Space Shuttles last summer, the Soyuz program has been hit by several problems the past several months, including the failure and crash of a Progress ship.
Source: RIA Novosti