Russia’s Roscosmos has decided to ground its rockets and stop the taxi service for cargo and people to the ISS temporarily, Roscosmos officials said at a press briefing according to AFP. This, on account of the recent launch mishap with one of the Soyuz’s booster rockets after liftoff that caused the rocket carrying two astronauts to explode mid-air.
In light of questions raised about the integrity and testing of the Soyuz rockets, as well as the agency’s investigation into the ISS leak and the failed rocket mishap, Roscosmos has decided to put a hold on any missions to ISS — indefinitely.
Since NASA shut down its Space Shuttle program in 2011, Russian Soyuz spacecrafts have been the only means for America and Russia to ferry people and cargo between Earth and the space laboratory.
The next such mission was scheduled for 20 December, a manned mission to return three astronauts that left for the space station in June, back to Earth.
While the Soyuz spacecraft docked on the ISS since their arrival is a temporary contingency plan for their survival, it was designed to last roughly 200 days and not much longer, NASA said.
This sets a timer for their return to 4 January 2019 give or take a day or two. That’s the only consideration rockets from Earth to the ISS will have to factor into preparation, John Logsdon, head of the Space Policy Institute at The George Washington University said to AFP.
The details of their return are uncertain, but they will not run out of food. Regular resupply missions coordinated by NASA and JAXA send up cargo to the ISS aboard the SpaceX Dragon, enough to enable “several months” of their survival, Logsdon assured.
NASA’s current contract with Roscosmos to send manned missions to the ISS ends in 2019, after which the agency has decided to have its needs met by SpaceX and Boeing.
SpaceX has had more experience (and a steady contract) with NASA on supply missions to the ISS — 16 and counting — than Boeing has. On the cards for SpaceX's ISS missions this coming year are an unmanned resupply mission in January and another manned mission in June. Both of these would be carried out using the company’s Falcon 9 Full Thrust rockets.
Boeing also has ISS launches schedules for March and August 2019, aboard its CST-100 Starliner.
While launch delays have occurred on the parts of both Boeing and SpaceX in the past, the Soyuz incident has "put some pressure" on both SpaceX and Boeing “to meet their current schedule," Logsdon told AFP.
This odd mix of haste and questions of safety, as three astronauts aboard the ISS wait for a lift back home.