Science & Environment

Russia sets November date for manned launch to ISS

Soyuz launch
Image caption Soyuz rockets are currently the only way to get astronauts to the ISS

Russia says the first manned flight to the International Space Station (ISS) since the August failure of a Soyuz rocket will take place on 12 November.

All flights - manned and unmanned - are currently grounded as the Russian space agency Roskosmos investigates an engine anomaly that sent a robotic ISS cargo ship crashing to Earth.

An inquiry believes it has found the cause in a production line defect.

Roskosmos plans to fly an unmanned mission before the crewed flight.

This has been scheduled for 30 October and will see a Soyuz rocket attempt to lift another robotic cargo ship to the ISS.

If it performs well, the space station partners - which also include the US, Europe, Canada and Japan - will have the confidence to re-instate manned flights.

Following the retirement of the American space shuttle in July, the Soyuz is now the only means of getting people to the station.

The rocket's problems have put at risk the continued occupation of the ISS, which has had people living and working inside its modules since November 2000.

Limits approaching

Crews have a strict 200-day limit on the time they can spend in orbit. This limit is tied to the safety certification on their return capsules, which are already in orbit.

If the Soyuz cannot be returned to flight in a timely fashion, the partners will not be able to replace cosmonauts and astronauts in the proper rotation.

There are six astronauts aboard the station currently. Three are due to return to Earth on Friday; the other three can stay up no more than a few days beyond 12 November at the latest. Therefore, any further slip in the Soyuz schedule would lead to the platform being abandoned, albeit temporarily.

Roskosmos says it would hope to fly a second manned mission on 20 December, and a further robotic freighter on 26 January.

The inability to rotate crews as planned puts a question mark now against the launch date for the first American commercial re-supply mission to the ISS.

Nasa is paying the Californian SpaceX company to deliver spare parts and other materials in its new Dragon capsule.

This unmanned mission had been scheduled for November, but the company's president Gwynne Shotwell said the crew expected to be on board the platform to receive Dragon would not now be in place at that time. These individuals had been trained how to grapple the approaching Dragon with the station's robotic arm, she said.

The Dragon flight could be delayed as a result, she told the Euroconsult World Satellite Business Week conference here in Paris.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites