The ISS is screwed.

So I’m almost done with my ringleader gig at TDS/TCR.  I like those diaries (call me old school) because they are fast paced and interactive which is something I’ve never been able to duplicate in this platform, partly because I have so much work creating content and scheduling that I’m not often able to stick around.

In any event, Kyle the Mainer was unaware of the plight of the International Space Station and since the repeat Thursday included Stephen’s interview with the crew of STS-135 I made that the focus.

The plan was that going forward there would be a semi-permanent crew of 6 at the International Space Station supported by regular visits of Russian Progress unmanned supply capsules and the crew rotated 3 at a time by manned Soyuz capsules with 2 extra attached to the Station as ‘life boats’.

On August 24th, about 6 days after this interview was taped, a Russian Soyuz launch vehicle (as opposed to capsule) with a Progress supply payload crashed shortly after launch.

No big dead said people at the time, we’ll just stretch out supplies and launch another one soon.  They even made jokes about one of the Russians having to borrow flight suits from an American.

It turns out that it was much more serious.  You see, it was the second such failure in a row and the Soyuz launch program was suspended indefinitely a day later.

Not only that, the delay of the planned September crew rotation mission is a real problem which, as reported Monday the 29th could result in the complete evacuation of the ISS by November.

The problem you see is that the Hydrogen Peroxide component of the maneuvering thruster fuel on a Soyuz capsule degrades over time.  Quite quickly in fact, it only has a safe life of 210 days.  Both the ‘life boat’ re-entry vehicles are near their limit and must be replaced by units traveling with crew replacements.

So there is talk of evacuation and leaving the Station unmanned for the first time in over 10 years.  There are 2 problems with this- The first is component failure.  While the Station can be controlled from the ground, if there is a problem requiring maintenance the chances of having the entire platform de-orbit and burn up in the atmosphere start at 10% in the first 6 months and rise to 50% after a year.

The second problem is that there are already people questioning the utility of the ISS and the need for a crew at all.

So this is why the Space Station is screwed.


I may be unduly pessimistic, it’s entirely possible that the launch failures are due to procedural errors as the Russians insist and that they will be corrected in time for the next scheduled launch in late September.  On the other hand it’s not at all encouraging that one of the most prominent voices in favor of shutting down the ISS is the Director of the entire Russian program.

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    • on 09/03/2011 at 13:36

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