Manned Soyuz spacecraft delayed

Soyuz spacecraftRussia has just announced that it is delaying the launch of the next manned Soyuz spacecraft, which was scheduled to carry a crew to the International Space Station in March. Soyuz TMA-04M has failed pressurization tests, forcing the Russian space agency to cancel the next manned flight to the ISS. It is not now expected to fly until late April or early May, carrying the crew of Padalka and Revin from Russia and Acaba from the US, allowing Burbank, Shkaplerov and Ivanishin to return to Earth. The Soyuz TMA-04M crew were to have joined Kononenko, Kuipers and Pettit launched in December 2011 to continue Expedition 31.

In the March issue of Spaceflight, Editor Dr David Baker (News Analysis page 86) drew attention to the lack of foresight concerning crew replacement and logistical support for the ISS programme, only Russia presently having the capacity to deliver supplies and people to the station. Following a disastrous year for Russian space hardware, which had already threatened to leave the USS unmanned, the current situation is deeply worrying. The first commercial flight involving a Dragon unmanned logistical supply module from SpaceX which had been planned to fly on 7 February has already been deferred without a new date announced. There is no vehicle currently available that can deliver people to the ISS.

The impact of this delay will have a knock-on effect, the very next Soyuz flight now utilising the spacecraft that would have been launched at the end of May, leaving the following mission to fly no earlier than the end of June instead of 30 May as originally planned. Any further delays could imperil the ability of the station to remain manned. The two Soyuz spacecraft currently moored to the ISS have only 250 days orbital life which means that the most recent of those must return by August.

Be sociable; support the BIS!