WASHINGTON, October 13 (Itar-Tass) — NASA is certain that the problems with the Russian Soyuz spacecraft have been settled and the continuous operation of crews onboard the International Space Station (ISS) will not be interrupted. NASA Associate Administrator for Space Operations William H. Gerstenmaier made this statement on Wednesday at a hearing in the Committee on Science, Space and Technology of the US House of Representatives.
He informed the lawmakers that Russian experts have fond the cause of the unsuccessful launch on August 24 of the Progress M-12M cargo spacecraft – contamination of a fuel line to the gas generator of the engine of the third stage of the Soyuz-V rocket. Gerstenmaier explained that there were no design errors, and that it is necessary to tighten control over the quality of the launch vehicle’s assembly. Gerstenmaier told the Committee that NASA is satisfied the cause of the August crash was, as the Russians have said, contamination of a fuel line that evaded a quality inspection.
On October 12, the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics held a hearing to review the findings of the Soyuz launch vehicle failure investigation in the wake of the recent crash of an unmanned Russian space vehicle called Progress, and the impacts that a short-term loss of crew access has on the safe operation and utilization of the International Space Station. Members questioned an expert panel of witnesses on the status of the accident investigation, re-certification and return-to-flight plans, and the implications of de-crewing the ISS. The hearing also highlighted the importance of ensuring America’s strategic access to space and to the ISS, according to the Committee’s press release.
Gerstenmaier stressed that NASA is confident that the Russian partners have established the most probable cause of the unsuccessful launch and have a reliable plan for the resumption of flights.
According to him, after the abortive launch NASA formed its own group of experts to deal with possible problems of the Soyuz spaceship that is currently the only means of delivery of astronauts to the ISS. He said that NASA has just completed its analysis and agrees with the main conclusions of the Russians, Gerstenmaier told the congressmen.
He said that under the adjusted plant of launched coordinated between NASA and the Russia Federal Space Agency (Roskosmos), on October 30 the Progress cargo ship is to be launched to the International Space Station and on November 14 - the next ISS crew: NASA astronaut Daniel Burbank and Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Anton Shkaplerov is to be launched to the ISS on the Soyuz spacecraft.
Chairman of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) Vice Admiral Joseph Dyer expressed confidence at the house hearings that these two flights will leave behind all the current concerns and make it possible to return to the ISS steady operation regime. According to the committee pres release, Dyer explained that it was significant that the cause of the failure was not a design flaw that would require lengthy re-design and re-certification effort. He also characterised safety concerns resulting from the potential disruption of Soyuz transport capability. He said that the “risks are mitigated given the ability to position the station in a higher orbit (and thereby buying time to find a solution) and the nominal ability to control station stability from the ground.” Regarding ASAP’s safety analysis of Soyuz after the crash, Vice Admiral Dyer spoke highly of NASA’s partnership with Russia. Dyer said that “the Russians have been forthcoming with the engineering analysis, safety and mission assurance information related to the efforts to return Soyuz to flight status.” He said that “If the sharing and transparency is sustained, it should be sufficient to support a decision to resume the astronauts’ transport to the ISS.”
Gerstenmaier conceded, the release says, that “With the recent Progress launch failure, the ISS Partners began preparations for the possibility of short-term de-crewing the Station in the event that the Soyuz 27 crewmembers would have to leave the ISS untended on their return to Earth on November 22, 2011.” He went on to say, “While the need to de-crew is not anticipated, NASA has a set of standard procedures in place for de-crewing the Station, should it become necessary to return the Soyuz currently on orbit before the next mission is flown.”
Gerstenmaier noted that if the flight scheduled for November 14 has to be postponed, and the current three ISS crewmembers return to Earth on November 22, then for the first time in more than 10 years the station will be unmanned. It will not be a catastrophe, the official pledged. The station can be controlled from the ground Mission Control Centre, he said. It will mostly affect the ongoing research work aboard the station. Although individual experiments, for example, the use of alpha magnetic spectrometer designed to study the elementary particles of cosmic radiation that has been recently installed on the ISS, will continue, he added.
The ISS is a joint project between the five participating space agencies, the American NASA, the Russian Roskosmos (RKA), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency JAXA, the European ESA, and the Canadian CSA. The ownership and use of the space station is established in intergovernmental treaties and agreements which divide the station into two areas and allow the Russian Federation to retain full ownership of Russian Orbital Segment (ROS).