The head of Russia’s manned flight program, Alexie Krasnov, has claimed that the Russians are in talks over the reduction in flights prior to the NASA Shuttle retirement date.
Krasnov – who only a few weeks ago noted NASA has been offered the use of one of their Soyuz space craft – believes NASA are pushing through a short-term retirement date ahead of the SDLV (Shuttle Derived Launch Vehicle) and CEV (Crew Exploration Vehicle).
“The Americans have been talking to us on several key elements of the ISS construction flights,” said Krasnov. “They want to reduce the number of flights down to 12-15 before a retirement in 2009.”
It was previously understood that NASA was aiming for a 2010 retirement of the STS fleet, with extra pressure on possibly going over a year due to the delay in the two test flights (the completed STS-114 and the Spring 2006 STS-121).
However, Krasnov claims NASA want to use the Shuttle only up to a point where they can viably pause operations during the transition from STS to CEV and SDLV launches.
“The SDLV can complete the remaining STS designed elements of the ISS to be launched from the Kennedy Space Center, with the start of the Shuttle phase out in 2008,” he added. “Then they can begin preparations for the SDLV and CEV while two Orbiters can finish off the last of the STS missions before their whole fleet is retired.
“We have ensured the Americans know they have our support in the transition and talks will be on-going as they are still planning their long-term schedule at this time.”
Asked whether NASA is sticking to a 2014 date for the start of CEV and SDLV launches, Krasnov added with a smile: “They believe they can push forward the date for this, but as I said, we have told them we will support NASA during this transition.”
Officially, NASA has a 26 mission mandate until the retirement of the Shuttle Fleet, although that was noted as ‘impossible’ soon after new administrator Mike Griffin assumed the position as the head of NASA.