Space Station Crew Return Delayed Until June, Next Launch Until July

Space Station Crew Return Delayed Until June, Next Launch Until July

NASA and its partners in the International Space Station (ISS) program decided today to extend the mission of three ISS crew members who were supposed to return to Earth tomorrow and postpone the launch of their replacements. The schedule change was prompted by the failure of Russia’s robotic Progress M-27M spacecraft last week.

Progress M-27M reentered over the Pacific Ocean on May 7 Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) and Roscosmos proposed changes to ISS crew and cargo flights at that time.  NASA announced today agreement among all the partners to the revised schedule, though exact dates have not been determined.  The ISS is a partnership among the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan, and 11 European countries working through the European Space Agency (ESA).

NASA’s Terry Virts, ESA’s Samantha Cristoforetti and Roscosmos’ Anton Shkaplerov were scheduled to return to Earth on their Soyuz TMA-15 spacecraft tomorrow (May 13).  The exact date for their rescheduled return in early June will be determined later.  The launch of their replacements on Soyuz TMA-17M will be postponed from May 26 to late July.   The three other ISS crew members now aboard ISS are NASA’s Scott Kelly, and Roscosmos’ Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka.  Kelly and Kornienko are part of the first one-year mission aboard ISS and will not return until March 2016.  Padalka is currently scheduled to come home in September.

Progress M-27M was launched on April 28, 2015 EDT and immediately ran into trouble.  A malfunction at the time it separated from the third stage of its Soyuz 2.1a rocket left both in incorrect orbits and the Progress spacecraft spinning.  One theory is that the third stage exploded, debris punctured the spacecraft’s fuel line, and venting fuel put Progress into a spin.  Roscosmos said today that the State Commission investigating the accident will conclude its work by May 22.

Progress M-27M was the second of four planned Progress cargo missions to the ISS this year.  The next had been scheduled for August 6, but the new schedule will accelerate that by about a month.

The new plan is as follows:

  • Return of Soyuz TMA-15M (Virts, Cristoforetti, Shkaplerov) in early June instead of on May 13
  • Progress M-28M launch in early July instead of August 6
  • Launch of Soyuz TMA-17M with Kjell Lindgren (NASA), Kimiya Yui (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) and Oleg Kononenko (Roscosmos) in late July instead of on May 26

NASA refers to Progress M-27M as Progress 59 because it is the 59th Progress to resupply ISS, but the Progress spacecraft has been in use by Russia since 1977 so there have been many more flights than that.  It was carrying three tons of food, fuel and other supplies for the ISS crew, but NASA insists that U.S. operations are not affected by the failure.  

A U.S. SpaceX Dragon cargo craft is currently attached to the ISS, and three more are scheduled this year.  Japan’s HTV cargo spacecraft is scheduled for launch in August and the U.S. Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo spacecraft is expected to be launched by the end of the year.  NASA said, however, that all of the dates for the remaining flights to ISS this year are under review. 

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