Soyuz debate considers removing US presence from the ISS

by Chris Bergin

NASA managers have been meeting today to debate the option of removing the US presence from the International Space Station (ISS) when Discovery undocks at the latter part of STS-124.

Meanwhile, STS-124 processing continues to up the pace, following the recent replacement of a faulty MDM (Multiplexer/Demultiplexer) card (FA2), and a Russian re-supply ship (Progress 29P) has successfully docked with the ISS.

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Soyuz Investigation and STS-124:

The discussions relate to confidence levels in the Russian Soyuz – that is currently docked on Station as a rescue vehicle in the event of an evacuation – while an ongoing investigation into Soyuz TMA-11’s ballistic re-entry continues.

The ‘down moded’ option taken by the Soyuz TMA-11’s flight computers – commanding the vehicle into a ballistic re-entry – is still in the midst of a Russian investigation, which is not likely to come to a conclusion ahead of STS-124.

The debate focuses around US confidence in the Soyuz as a ‘solid rescue vehicle’ – as previously reported by this site. The docked Soyuz is the only means of evacuation from the ISS during an emergency in-between shuttle missions.

The options being discussed relate to either changing the crew size riding up on Discovery to six – minus expedition 17’s Gregory Chamitoff – and returning Garrett Reisman as planned, or launching with Chamitoff, before bringing him home with Garrett on Discovery.

These options – noted as 6 up/7 down and 7 up/8 down – have been debated since Wednesday, with Friday’s meeting relating to the latter option of bringing eight crewmembers home with Discovery. Orbiters are capable of bringing home 10 astronauts – if required

‘Many from the STS-124 (team) worked (Wednesday) pulling together story on impacts for six crewmembers up/seven down and seven up/eight down to discuss with (Shuttle Manager) Mr. (John) Shannon,’ noted comments on the latest Shuttle Stand-up Integration report.

‘Mr. Shannon noted that the meetings (will take place) on Friday to look at charts and flight rationale, and (also) the meeting on how to bring both ISS crewmembers back. He has a Standing Review Board outbrief with Mike Coates on Friday.’

Carrying out such an option would leave Commander Sergey Volkov, and Flight Engineer Oleg Kononenko on the ISS – who would use the Soyuz in the event of an emergency evacuation of the Station.

The next shuttle mission due to arrive at the ISS is Endeavour on STS-126, though she is not due to launch until November at present. Atlantis – the next shuttle to launch after STS-124 – will be heading to the Hubble Space Telescope in October.

The next Russian manned mission to the ISS – with Soyuz TMA-13 – is currently scheduled for launch on October 12.

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At this stage, the options being considered relate to creating a plan that could be activated if managers decide it is the best form of mitigating any doubts they may have with the Russian vehicle.

Another option would be to delay STS-124 until a time the progress of the Russian investigation has arrived at a point where confidence is high in the ability of using Soyuz for emergency evacuations from the Station.

Monday’s Agency Flight Readiness Review (FRR) is likely to debate these options at length.

Progress docks:

The Russian resupply vehicle Progress M-64/29P has successfully docked with the ISS, following a two day journey after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The vehicle is carrying over two tons of supplies to the orbital outpost, including fuel, food, water, oxygen, clothing and personal items – including a new Sokol KV-2 spacesuit for Sergey Volkov. In total, Progress M-64’s mass at launch is 7056 kg.

The automated vehicle will began its final approach at around 5:29 pm Eastern, ahead of contact with the Station at the FGB Nadir port around 5:39pm.

STS-124 Latest:

STS-124’s pad flow remains on track, with loading of hypergolics resumed at 1am this morning. This followed the standdown to remove and replace the faulty MDM, and the repair of a scratched cold plate.

“After the old MDM was removed, a scratch was found on the cold plate and was repaired,” noted Friday processing information. “Work to install the new MDM box began late 1st shift yesterday and was completed at 19:56 local last night.

“OV-103 (Discovery) was then powered back up at 21:07 hours. Further MDM retesting requirements will continue through Saturday including Orbiter and SRB hydraulic operations.”

MDM retests will take place on Saturday to confirm a resolution to the problem that affected Discovery’s GPC’s (General Purpose Computers), along with S0024 propellant loading, S1287 orbiter aft closeouts, hydraulic testing and leak checks, and EMU functional testing.

“Will use this weekend to catch up on work they haven’t been able to do because of this problem,” added the Integrated Flow Status. “Will use Saturday and Sunday, which were contingency days.

“Will be in a position on Monday to pick up with ordnance. If not, still have following weekend to use as contingency days.”

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