Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Highlights of NASA News Conference: Loss of Progress 44

As reported in many news services, Russia lost contact with the Progress 44, and it failed to make orbit.

ISS Program Manager Mike Suffredini held a news conference at 12:00 Noon EDT, and passed along the following information:

Russia will be forming a commission to investigate, and the U.S. will be working with them to identify root cause of the failure.  This is the first Progress loss in the history of the ISS program.

There are implications to the ISS craft itself and the crews aboard.
  • The Soyuz booster used for the Progress launch is very similar to that used for crew launches, and the 3rd stage is identical, so this may impact the 22-September launch of the next 3-man crew, depending on the investigation.
  • Plenty of consumables to go a long time-- crews would reach the end of their time well before these are exhausted.
  •  The 3-person crew that is slated to return to Earth in September will reach 162 days in orbit by then.  The normal rotation period is 180 days, plus an additional 30 days of contingency.  This means they could stay on orbit another 45 days or so with no ill effects.  If the Soyuz crew launch is sufficiently delayed as a result of the ongoing investigation, Suffredini  said this crew will return to Earth and they can operate the station nominally with a total crew of 3 (but not much science will get done).
  • The currently higher orbit puts the ISS in a good position to tolerate delays in re-boost, although Suffredini pointed out that they have sufficient propellant onboard to proceed with the planned re-boost without the presence of the Progress.  the station can go for many months without re-supply.
Progress 44 was carrying 2.9 metric tons of non-unique supplies (easily replaceable): dry goods, water, fuel, and gasses.

When asked by a member of the press whether any of the planned commercial visits to the ISS could help with the delivery of supplies, Suffredini replied that even though NASA has an agreement to place 800 Kg on the SpaceX Dragon mission scheduled for November, he saw no reason to actually use the available capacity.  He also mentioned that Progress 45, currently scheduled for an October launch, could have its launch date moved up if needed.

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