Friday, September 16, 2011

Has Russia Been Blocking Dragon Docking At The ISS?

Russian Comments on SpaceX Flight

A news report surfaced at the Ria Novosti site with the headline "Private U.S. capsule not to dock with ISS".  Just as with U.S. media outlets, the substance of the article was not nearly as definitive as the attention-grabbing headlines.

photo SpaceX
A short time later, NASA announced via twitter that the story was incorrect, and that no decision had yet been made regarding the SpaceX test flight slated for later this year.

The Russian news story tries to connect the dots between old news and recent comments from Vladimir Solovyov, head of the Russian segment of the ISS mission control.  He did state that "a flight by the Dragon to the ISS, but without berthing, has tentatively been scheduled for the end of this year. Though, I do not know, whether it'll fly or not," which was true even before the failed Progress launch on August 24th (NASA has only officially approved two separate flights for the Dragon to the ISS, one to rendezvous, the second to actually dock.  Approval for combining the two flights has been pending for some time).

What jumps out of this story are the comments that are behind the headline, indicating that Russia will not allow the SpaceX vehicle to dock with the ISS unless its safety is fully tested:

"We will not issue docking permission unless the necessary level of reliability and safety is proven," said Alexei Krasov, head of the human spaceflight department of Roscosmos. "So far we have no proof that this spacecraft duly comply with the accepted norms of spaceflight safety."

If anyone has been wondering what was taking NASA so long to grant formal approval to a combination of the COTS-2 and COTS-3 flights, I think we have our answer: Russia is not convinced the Dragon is not a threat to the safety of their personnel on the ISS. In light of the current crew situation aboard the ISS and the delayed arrival of astronauts trained to deal with the Dragon, what might be SpaceX's best course?  I would like to see the Falcon 9/Dragon launch go forward on November 30th, and do so as the scheduled COTS-2 flight (i.e., NOT dock with the ISS).  Doubts about the Falcon 9 following the engine anomaly which occurred during its last test flight could be put to rest with an extra flight, and the COTS-3 flight could proceed early next year once the ISS is fully crewed with the right personnel.

Obviously the cost for two flights is at least double that of a combined flight, but the additional experience would be valuable for SpaceX.

1 comment:

  1. Considering the explosion of the Russian resupply launch to the ISS, I don't think they should have much if any say in the matter.

    Tell them to STFU.