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NASA safety advisers warn plans to move ISS to ‘unreliable trajectory’

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WASHINGTON — NASA safety advisers warn that the agency’s efforts to transition from the International Space Station to commercial space stations without gaps are on a “dangerous trajectory.”

At the July 21 meeting of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Group, its members expressed concern that NASA-supported commercial stations were unlikely to be ready in time for the decommissioning of the ISS at the end of the decade, and that the effort suffered from a lack of budgets.

These plans, dubbed “Commercial Leo Earth Orbit (LEO) Destinations” by NASA, “are on a dangerous trajectory to proceed on schedule and within the projected resources needed to maintain NASA’s presence at LEO,” said Patricia Sanders, chair of the commission. “This is an area of ​​concern to us.”

In December, NASA selected proposals from teams led by Blue Origin, Nanoracks and Northrop Grumman to fund space act agreements to improve their commercial space station designs. The agency has a separate agreement with Axiom Space, giving the company access to a port on the ISS, to which the company is preparing to attach a number of commercial modules that will later become the core of an autonomous station.

However, Amy Donahue, a member of the commission, said that NASA plans to publish official requirements for the use of these stations only at the end of 2024. According to her, the ISS will retire in 2030.

The panel was worried about evaluating a commercial station, she said, noting that the current schedule calls for it to be done faster than any other human spaceflight program since Mercury. “The question is what NASA can do to mitigate the risk of not meeting that schedule,” she said. “This certainly gives us concern in terms of risk.”

The group is not the first to warn that NASA’s schedule to replace the ISS may not be feasible. A report from NASA’s Office of the Inspector General last November, shortly before NASA awarded its commercial space stations, warned that a commercial station was “unlikely to be ready before 2030″ and that NASA’s timetable should have one or more ready before 2030. unreal”.

Another issue is the resources not only to support the development of stations, but also for their use by NASA. “He doesn’t have a forecast or a way to guarantee the volume of NASA business for suppliers once the commercial lab is available,” Donahue said. “We also think it likely that NASA will need to provide bridge funding in transitioning operations from a fully funded government space station to a fully commercial space station over the time needed to develop a sustainable commercial market.”

“In short,” she concluded, “NASA really needs to recognize and plan for the underlying reality that maintaining a permanent human presence in orbit now and into the future will require significant public investment.”

Keeping the ISS operational until 2030 faces its own challenges. Another panel member, Mark Cirangelo, noted several issues that both NASA and the security commission are monitoring, from geopolitical tensions with Russia to cracks in the Russian module’s hull.

“The ISS is now in its third decade and is feeling its age,” he said. “He’s constantly facing new challenges.”

The group, he said, found no major problems threatening the operation of the station, but urged NASA to expedite the replacement of aging spacesuits, whose technical problems currently prevent astronauts from doing spacewalks.

Some of these issues are beyond NASA’s control. Sirangelo cited the growing amount of orbital debris that has dramatically increased the number of close approaches or connections to the station. “The number of connections to the ISS has increased significantly and several times over the past two years,” he said.

This is largely due to the November 2021 demonstration of Russian anti-satellite weapons that destroyed the Kosmos-1408 satellite and created thousands of debris in orbits crossing the ISS. He said that as of June 1 this year, the station had received 681 call notifications. Of these, 505 were associated with the wreckage of that anti-satellite demonstration.

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