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Decision on leaking Soyuz and its replacement to be made by Russia on January 11th

According to Russian space reporter Anthony Zak, Russia now says it will make its final decision on replacing the leaking manned Soyuz capsule on ISS January 11. Zak added this:

According to unofficial reports, the damaged spacecraft would return to Earth without crew, while the Soyuz MS-23 spacecraft would be launched in February 2023 piloted by a single cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko. His crew mates Nikolai Chub and Andrei Fedyaev would remain on the ground to free return seats for the two Russian members of the stranded Soyuz MS-22 crew. NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, who also traveled to the ISS on Soyuz MS-22, would return to Earth aboard a US Dragon vehicle, according to that scenario. On Jan. 9, 2023, Roskosmos denied that such a plan had been approved.

I have strong doubts about these “unofficial reports.” First, there would be no reason to fly the Soyuz manned, as it can do everything automatically, just like a Progress freighter. Second, there are serious safety issues about flying Rubio home as an extra passenger on Dragon. More likely someone in Russia wants to tweak some noses by suggesting Russia considers its own astronauts more valuable than the American.

Expect Russia to announce that the new Soyuz will arrive unmanned in February, and bring all three men home.

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On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

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  • Col Beausabre

    Suggest? As our fealess leader would try to say, “C’mon man” It’s a given

  • Ray Van Dune

    Notwithstanding whatever decision the Russians make, I think there is merit in designing extra “jump seats” for contingency use in either Crew or Cargo Dragon! The seat(s) could be sent up in the trunk of a Dragon, and stored on the ISS for ready use.

    There is no more room in Soyuz, AFAIK.

  • geoffc

    I think you might have misinterpreted a minor point.

    The proposed solution for 3 Soyuz MS-22 crew is:
    Launch MS-23 with one crew. Now 2/3 have a return vehicle.

    Next dragon mission, would be moved up as well, and launch with 3 US astronauts, leaving a seat free for the return of the reemaining MS-22 crew men. (The Russian due to launch on it would NOT launch, freeing up a seat.).

    I think you were reading it as a Dragon set up for 5 would be launched.

    It is a surprisingly complex solution.

  • geoffc: Ah, that makes a bit more sense, though it still surprises me that the Russians want a crew person on the Soyuz. They have launched them unmanned more than a few times in the past, and they use the same equipment and software as Progress. There really is no reason to do this, unless they simple wish to increase their margins of safety.

  • geoffc

    I concur the one person on board is very odd. Especially since they can remote control dock a Soyuz or Progess from the ISS even if no one is on board. I.e. Take Manual control And then leaving one astronaut in limbo at the mercy of a Dragon delay also seems odd.

  • pzatchok

    Why do the seats have to be ridgid?

    Could they just be shaped inflatables capable of being latched to the floor?

    Come on we use airbags to land rovers on Mars we can make a few strong enough for the few G’s of force and Earth landing would have.

  • Edward

    pzatchok asked: “Could they just be shaped inflatables capable of being latched to the floor?

    Where human safety is concerned, careful study, design, and planning are necessary.

    SpaceX made preliminary studies that suggested that they could put seven in a Dragon, but more detailed studies showed that more than four would compromise safety. Inflatables and other methods of including additional passengers did not meet the safety standards.

    It may be interesting to note that the history of lifeboats on ocean liners was very poor up to and long after the Titanic disaster. Lifeboats had snagged the sides of their ships and capsized as they were lowered, dumping their passengers into the water. Other lifeboats actually broke in two, which explains that concern expressed by the Titanic crew. Lifeboats even broke from the ropes and pulleys as they were lowered, also dumping their passengers into the water. Titanic, despite the lack of lifeboats, had a surprisingly high survival rate compared to other contemporary evacuations.

    Modern ocean liner lifeboats have a very different design. It seems that someone finally went to great pains to correct the problems of the past.

    Once again, as with the design of Titanic, we seem to have regressed into having “lifeboats” for only half the ISS crew. This violates modern safety standards, so we might want to ponder what future space stations will do to ensure lifeboats for all at all times.

    On the other hand, airliners have different safety requirements than ocean liners and the ISS. While airborne or at speed on the runway, there are few options for abandoning an airliner. Airliners must come to a stop on the ground (or water) before an evacuation can begin, and if they get too far down the runway during takeoff then it is too late to stop. This is why we lost the passengers and crew of an Air France Concord supersonic jet a quarter century ago.

    We accept that situation for aircraft, but not for watercraft or space stations. I suppose that it is all a matter of practicality. Can we really have parachutes or other escape means for each airliner passenger, and if so, would the passengers really go through the training required for the safe use of these parachutes? It seems that some passengers are willing to risk their lives in order to travel the world on some forms of transport, but not on others.

  • Thomas Wilson

    I absolutely will NOT fly any more, period due to degradations in the quality of air traffic control and how pilots seem to be reacting to the clot shot. If I can’t drive there or take a train etc then I am not going.

  • pzatchok

    I think it was NASA that forced the changes. Without any real studies.
    Space X thought things were just fine.
    In the end they just removed the extra seats and moved the others. No real structural changes to either the seats or capsule. I think they said it was easier to get in and out. For what? A space walk?

    It was the same reason NASA told Space X to not use the Dragon thrusters for landing, even though they are fine for escape in an emergency.

    Remember we are talking about converting an cargo Dragon into a passenger Dragon in a real emergency. Four on the floor and three hanging would be fine
    This should be as easy as putting the removable seats back into a van and driving it around a bit,

  • pzatchok

    To test it all they have to do is make the parts, outfit a cargo dragon and launch it for an orbit or two and then land it. Done.

    Make changes to improve it.

    It could more than likely be designed and built in less time than it takes the Russians to launch their next ship.
    We should have had this done years ago. Parallel engineering and construction the whole time the Dragon passenger capsule was being built.

    But NASA said why? It will never be needed. And Space X doesn’t have to spend its cash unless Elon wants to.

  • Richard M

    Re: Crewing MS-23 with one cosmonaut on launch:

    There really is no reason to do this, unless they simple wish to increase their margins of safety.

    I can’t help the feeling that they don’t quite trust their automated docking systems as much as SpaceX and NASA do Dragon’s. They have had a few hiccups in recent years. I think Roscosmos doesn’t want to take any chances at this point. I’m reluctant to second-guess this…until we learn more.

    There is a certain irony in this, given that in early days of the Soviet space program, the Russians relied much more heavily on automation of crewed vehicles than NASA did.

  • Richard M

    I think it was NASA that forced the changes. Without any real studies.

    That was my understanding. NASA apparently wanted reduced G-loads on the astronauts on reentry, and this required re-positioning the seats in such a way that only four could be readily accommodated. Not so much about making Dragon “safe,” as “safer.”

    Gwynne Shotwell talked about this as being a really big change that required considerable work, and she spoke of it in such a way that it implied some disappointment on SpaceX’s part. No doubt in part because fewer seats means less revenue.

  • Edward

    pzatchok wrote: “It was the same reason NASA told Space X to not use the Dragon thrusters for landing, even though they are fine for escape in an emergency.

    Actually, the reason was that NASA didn’t like the landing legs idea. The legs would necessarily need slits in the heat shielding where the feet would extend, and that might let hot gasses pass through and destroy the capsule during reentry. NASA had no practical experience with these kinds of openings in heat shielding … Wait. Didn’t they have landing gear that extended through the Space Shuttle Orbiter’s heat shield? Yes. Yes, they did. So if it worked for the Shuttle Orbiter, why couldn’t it work for Dragon? Ah, well. The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry due to some government bureaucrat.

    The major loss was that SpaceX dropped its plans to put an unmanned Dragon on Mars to test techniques and potentially to deliver small NASA rovers. Various experiments could have been done to verify that there really is ice under some potential landing sites. There are other lost opportunities, too, but the Mars mission is what I had hoped to happen.

    Come to think if it, this could have been when NASA demanded only four seats rather than seven. Without the powered landing, there would have been the jerk when the parachutes opened and the other jerk when the capsule splashed into the water. With the legs and powered landing, touchdown would have been smoother, gentler, and safer.

    Interference on the landing gear and the seating arrangements are two reasons why having government as the major customer can be a bad business decision. As government becomes less and less important as a customer base, we should see more and more innovations that give us more options for taking advantage of the space environment for our own benefit, not for the government’s benefit. Dragon and Crew Dragon were designed for government use. Starship was not. Starship’s flexibility and capabilities have not been limited, much, by government demands.

  • Edward

    Scott Manley examined what NASA did when they were worried that there could be stranded astronauts during the Skylab mission: (14 minutes)

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