Posted on October 9, 2022
On October 6, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket left Cape Canaveral, Florida, carrying in its Crew Dragon capsule, “Endurance” (also designed and produced by SpaceX), four astronauts, including two Americans (a female commander), a Japanese and a Russian. , Anna Kikina (“mission specialist”). The docking with the International Space Station, the ISS, will take place on October 7 at 11 am.
Anna Kikina is not a tourist, but a true cosmonaut, selected as such in 2012. She is also a qualified engineer qualified to work on Russian equipment integrated into the ISS. Her flight is part of the routine of the continuous and necessary presence of Russians on board. It was scheduled since June 2020 and we can already say that she will have successors (and there are already two other Russians on board… that will fall before her).
This is the first time in twenty years that a Russian cosmonaut has taken off from American soil. The previous time, it was an American who had left Russia in a Soyuz spacecraft. But above all, what is worrying a priori, given the context of the war, is that both parties find this (almost) normal, while most western countries with prudish leaders refuse to welcome tourists, Russians or musicians to play. in their orchestras.
Indeed, it must be clearly understood that the ISS could not operate without Russian equipment and the continued presence of Russian personnel on board to operate it. The ISS is made up of 16 pressurized modules, including six Russian, eight American, one Japanese and one European. The International Space Station is therefore largely an American-Russian station with marginal participation from Japan and Europe (more precisely from ESA). More importantly, one of the Russian modules, “Zvezda”, is the station’s engine room. The equipment that it contains and that the Russians control makes it possible, in particular, to return to orbit when Earth’s gravity inexorably drags the mass of the entire ISS towards the Earth’s surface, that is, much earlier, into increasingly dense layers of atmosphere where a machine running at about 28,000 km per hour would burn up almost completely (but not all) after being taken apart and torn apart. For the record, the ISS evolves between 330 and 420 km in altitude.
In fact, when the ISS was launched in 1993, the United States, which had been planning to build a space station since the early 1980s, lacked the experience (at least that of a truly functioning station) and was only too happy to make an alliance on that one. level with the Russians who had just imploded the USSR and who considered themselves to have become a second-tier power, taking advantage of a good part of their technology without having to develop it themselves. The Russians were at the time at the forefront in the field of orbital stations, as they successfully operated their MIR station for several years (1986 to 2001). The Americans tried their own experiment with their Skylab in 1973/74, but this ministation (a single module) could not be kept in orbit. Also, before the implosion of the USSR, the Russians had prepared a MIR2 station and Zvezda would be the heart of it. They could therefore continue their activity and especially their research in astronautical technology by experimenting with a new engine, while this would have been impossible in their 1993 domestic political context.
Therefore, American-Russian cooperation continues today in this field because the Americans do not want to say that they are dependent on the Russians and because the Russians are satisfied to continue working on the ISS in the context of the preparation of a new all-Russian station (obviously much more modern than the MIR2) whose first module could be launched between 2025 and 2026. This station could be operational in 2028. It is implied that a Russian withdrawal from the ISS would mean the rapid demise of the ISS in very bad conditions (including safety on the ground) as the Americans they could no longer maneuver it and as it is unthinkable to dismantle the gigantic mechanics that it eventually formed, to replace the Zvezda module (to which all the others are connected) with an American module that does not exist today.
So we do against bad luck with a good heart, and with a smile even if it’s a little tense!
Ultimately, the Americans have an interest in demonstrating their ability to perform space feats in terms of human spaceflight if they want to maintain their political prestige in this area. However, it’s not clear that they can.
There are two possible exits, Artemis or Starship.
Artemis is the huge rocket built by the ULA under the control of NASA, which could make it possible to repeat the exploits of the Saturn V rocket from the Apollo missions that allowed for incursions on the Moon in the 1960s. But we saw that its launch was delayed from mid-September. to the end of September and then to the beginning of November. After a long preparation (early 2005), it is worrying to say the least.
Starship, a futuristic marvel prepared by SpaceX under the direction of Elon Musk, is also due to make its first orbital flight around Earth in November. SpaceX has demonstrated its capabilities by flying and, above all, recovering and reusing its launchers, Falcon9 and Falcon Heavy. But with Starship you go up several rungs on the difficulty ladder. The ship itself can fly, the proof has been given (flight SN15), but if it managed to get some static shots (on the ground) its SuperHeavy launcher that should put it in orbit has not yet demonstrated that it could sustain the simultaneous firing of enough engines to carry the mass of his starship, the Starship, into space. The risk of one engine failure is much less unlikely when the number is increased and the consequences on others can be catastrophic.
This is what worries the Americans, far more than the Russians continuing as discreetly as possible (for them) to board “their” ISS.
Russian modules: http://www.russianspaceweb.com/iss_russia.html