Aerospace industries around the world are going through a shake-up after last week’s loss of the Russian cargo vessel Progress.
The resupplying of the International Space Station (or ISS) is on hold after the Soyuz rocket carrying Progress somehow sent it on a crash course into western Siberia.
The Russian space agency Roskosmos decided to suspend all launches until it has fully defined the causes.
Three members of the team in the ISS were scheduled to return to Earth on September 8; that has been pushed back to the 16. Since the US shuttle service was retired this summer, Russia has become the main ISS supplier. But NASA says not to worry.
Mike Suffredini, NASA’s ISS Program manager said: “We’re in a good position logistically to withstand this loss of supplies or income to ISS and in fact I would tell you we can go several months without a re-supply vehicle if that becomes necessary.”
Moscow control says alternatives are being sought — just in case. euronews spoke to an authority at a Russian space think tank by phone.
Ivan Moiseyev said: “Resupply can be assured by Japan and France. They have reliable vehicles. But they are only launched very rarely, and we can’t count on them for regular supply runs unless there are serious structural changes. If another such accident were to happen, either with Soyuz or Progress, the ISS would have to be evacuated.”
The accident is the first loss of a Russian cargo vessel in 30 years, carried by the stalwart Soyuz rocket, but in the last nine months Roskosmos has lost six satellites, carried by other launchers.
Russia’s aerospace reputation long enjoyed an upspoilt record, ever since it established its prowess in the 1960s. But after funding reductions that came with the demise of the Soviet Union the stress shifted from hard-to-fault quality more towards mass production in the 1990s. Today, a Roskosmos engineer’s pay, just starting out, is half the average Moscow salary, and so the brains are looking elsewhere.
As well as the Americans, the European Space Agency is especially anxious that Soyuz be given a clean bill of health in the accident investigation. It has invested 500 million euros in building a new Soyuz launch facility in French Guyana, and the first of those missions is pencilled in for this November.