January 28, 2012

Next Manned ISS-Bound Launch Delayed

Issues with the spacecraft's landing capsule have forced officials with the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) to delay the next scheduled Soyuz rocket flight to the International Space Station (ISS), various media outlets reported on Friday.

Reuters, citing initial reports from the Interfax news agency, said that the launch, which was originally scheduled to take place on March 30, would be delayed for several weeks.

In fact, according to unnamed industry sources, breaks suffered by the descent vehicle during testing could for the flight, which will shuttle American and Russian astronauts to the ISS, to be postponed until May, the wire service said.

"The descent vehicle's shell broke during air tightness testing," the source told Interfax, according to a January 27 Space.com report. "This descent capsule can no longer be used in a manned flight."

"The remaining time is not enough to prepare the descent capsule built for the next Soyuz. Therefore, the launch of the Soyuz TMA-04M will have to be rescheduled until the second half of April or the first half of May," they added.

Three of the six crew members currently onboard the space station -- NASA Commander Dan Burbank and Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin -- were scheduled to return to Earth on March 16, Space.com Staff Writer Denise Chow wrote.

The upcoming Soyuz flight will taxi NASA's Joe Acaba as well as Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin of Roscosmos to the ISS to replace the trio of returning astronauts. The delay will extend Burbank, Shkaplerov, and Invanishin's return to Earth until mid-April or the first half of May, FoxNews.com reported.

"If the new Soyuz capsule is unable to launch on time in late March, it may potentially alter the current launch and landing schedule planned by NASA and its space station partners," Chow said on Friday.

"We'll work with our Russian colleagues to understand what occurred," NASA spokesperson Kylie Clem told Space.com. "They will investigate what happened, and we'll work with them."

In related news, Reuters said that a launch of the Dutch NSS-14 telecommunication satellite, which had been scheduled for Saturday, would be delayed for a second time due to issues with the Proton-M carrier rocket. The wire service, referencing Itar-Tass reports, noted that a new launch date had yet to be announced.


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