SpaceX’s astronaut taxi may get a shield upgrade.
NASA is considering asking SpaceX to boost the existing shielding on the company’s Crew Dragon capsule after something blasted a tiny hole in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in December 2022, agency officials said during a press conference on Wednesday (Jan. 25).
The strike, likely by a micrometeoroid, occurred while the Soyuz was docked to the International Space Station (ISS), where it remains today. The impact caused a coolant leak that rendered the Soyuz vehicle, known as MS-22, unsafe to carry astronauts home except in case of emergency.
So Russia’s space agency Roscosmos has decided to launch an empty Soyuz on Feb. 20 to bring the three MS-22 crewmembers back to Earth. That journey is expected to occur in September, about six months after the trio’s original planned homecoming date.
The discussions with SpaceX are in the early stages; the shield-boost idea was just raised Tuesday (Jan. 24) at a regularly scheduled commercial crew meeting, said Steve Stich, program manager for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
“We started to talk about a little bit — Is there anything we can do now?” he said in Wednesday’s press conference, which provided an update on ISS operations and the next SpaceX mission to the station, Crew-6, which is scheduled to lift off on Feb. 26.
SpaceX’s Sarah Walker said the company is aligned with NASA’s goals. Walker, who is director of Dragon mission management, also emphasized that all analyses to date show that the Crew Dragon docked at the ISS now, called Endurance, is doing just fine.
“The Dragon systems are healthy and operating nominally,” Walker said during Wednesday’s press conference of Endurance, which launched to the orbiting lab this past October on SpaceX’s Crew-5 mission for NASA.
Roscosmos officials say that the damaged Soyuz MS-22 could accommodate two of its three crewmembers if an emergency necessitated the evacuation of the ISS. The ride back to Earth would be warm with no coolant, however. The two who would make that trip on MS-22 are cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin. The third crewmember, NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, would join the four…