NASA is chatting with SpaceX about the potential for using a Crew Dragon spacecraft to bring home three International Space Station (ISS) astronauts who currently haven’t any ride back to Earth.
The Soyuz spacecraft that transported American Frank Rubio, and Russians Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin, to the ISS in September suffered a serious leak a few weeks ago that saw coolant spraying out from the Russian capsule.
NASA’s counterpart, Roscosmos, remains to be investigating the cause and extent of the damage because it considers how one can get the three crewmembers home on or before their scheduled departure date in March.
If the Soyuz passes safety checks, it could still be used to bring the trio home. Alternatively, Roscosmos may have the option to send an empty Soyuz to the ISS to gather them.
But when Roscosmos finds its own solutions problematic, NASA could step in.
On Thursday it emerged that the U.S. space agency has been consulting SpaceX on the concept of using certainly one of its Crew Dragon spacecraft to move Rubio, Prokopyev, and Petelin back to Earth.
“We have now asked SpaceX a number of questions on their capability to return additional crew members on Dragon if mandatory, but that just isn’t our prime focus right now,” NASA spokeswoman Sandra Jones told Reuters.
It’s not clear if NASA’s inquiry focuses on fitting more seats to the Crew Dragon currently docked on the ISS; the spacecraft brought 4 Crew-5 astronauts to the orbital outpost in October and isn’t attributable to return until March. It’s also possible NASA is curious about getting SpaceX to send an empty Crew Dragon to the ISS to rescue the three crewmembers.
Roscosmos chief Yury Borisov said last week that the agency has “no fears” in regards to the safety of the crew.
Nonetheless, each NASA and Roscosmos will wish to resolve the difficulty as soon as possible, because the ISS currently has just one emergency escape route — the docked Crew Dragon — should the station face a situation through which all seven crewmembers should evacuate.