Tuesday, November 19, 2019 – 10:59 am
Space, NASA: flights at risk in 2020, fewer US astronauts on ISS
Delays on the Commercial Crew Program involving Boeing and SpaceX
Rome, 19 November (askanews) – The presence of American astronauts on the ISS could drastically decrease due to delays on the Commercial Crew Program involving Boeing and SpaceX. This is the content of the report drawn up by NASA’s Office Inspector General (Oig) according to which – reports Global Science, the online newspaper of the Italian Space Agency – neither company will be able to have NASA’s fitness to fly for their own Cst-100 Starliner and Crew Dragon shuttles before next summer. If the certifications were to slip again, NASA risks making its astronauts stay on the ground next autumn.
According to the programs examined by the OIG, SpaceX is expected to receive eligibility for flight in January, while Boeing’s is scheduled for February. However, NASA’s ok would only come after the completion of the manned test flights which are unlikely to happen so soon.
The main problems of the two companies, the report reads, concern parachutes and abort mission systems. Boeing has yet to complete three of the six launch interruption system reliability tests required by NASA, after identifying a malfunction in June 2018 that delayed the overall development of the shuttle by one year. SpaceX, on the other hand, started the Mark 3 parachute tests for Crew Dragon, successfully completing 13 tests out of 15 and performed a static test on the engines on November 13 last, almost seven months after the accident that caused the destruction of a Crew Dragon capsule.
These delays, – continues Global Science – will negatively influence the possibility of using the ISS starting next spring, when the number of astronauts present on the station will drop from six to three, with only one American, Chris Cassidy. This event would reduce NASA’s ability to operate on ISS’s US orbital segment, Usos. “A reduction in the number of crew members on the American segment would limit the tasks of astronauts mainly to maintenance, leaving little time for scientific research – reads the Oig report – three astronauts can perform an average of 11.67 hours of research per week per person. A single astronaut, however, would have time for only 5.5 hours of research per week and this may not be enough to develop the skills needed for future space exploration missions. ” In the meantime, NASA has requested but not yet obtained the two passes on Soyuz for autumn 2020 and spring 2021 formally requested to Roscosmos by Jim Bridenstine, last October 24th.
The Oig report then highlighted another problem regarding the purchase of further passages on the Soyuz: Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act (Inksna) which authorizes the US to impose sanctions on private individuals and governments (in this case that Russian involved in activities with the countries mentioned in the act) that engage in proliferation activities. The act, valid until 2020, contains a clause that excludes NASA’s activities to allow the purchase of launch services from Russia until the launch of the Commercial Crew Program. But not everyone seems to agree with the report’s predictions. Ken Bowersox, NASA associate administrator, said that the clause that excludes NASA activities from Inksna could be extended until 2030, giving the United States the opportunity to overcome the impasse.
Vice President Mike Pence also clearly expressed his opinion on the future of human space flight made in the USA, with statements that deviate from what is written in the Oig report: “Before spring comes next year, we will fly American astronauts on American rockets from American soil, towards the ISS. We will have our shuttles that will be able to shuttle to and from the Space Station and we will no longer need a ride with the Russians. ” All that remains is to wait for the start of next year and the test flights with SpaceX and Boeing crew to see which of the two predictions will come true.