Russia Looking to Reduce ISS Crew Size

ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Timothy Peake, NASA astronaut Timothy Kopra and Roscosmos cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko (front) are set to depart the International Space Station and return to Earth June 18, 2016. Russian cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin and NASA astronaut Jeff Williams (back) will be joined in July by NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. (Credit: NASA)
ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Timothy Peake, NASA astronaut Timothy Kopra and Roscosmos cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko (front) are set to depart the International Space Station and return to Earth June 18, 2016. Russian cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin and NASA astronaut Jeff Williams (back) will be joined in July by NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. (Credit: NASA)

Roscosmos is looking to reduce the size of Russian crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS) from three to two, Izvestiya reports.

“We sent a letter to the participants of the ISS program – we want to hear their views on how we reduce the crew and when, there are nuances,” Sergei Krikalev, director of manned programs of the state corporation Roscosmos told Izvestia. “We are interested in the opinion of the Mission Control Center, the Institute of Biomedical Problems (RAS lead agency on the subject of Human Spaceflight — Izvestiya), our ISS partners. The intention to reduce the crew due to the fact that we have reduced the number of cargo ships sent to the ISS, as well as awareness of the need to increase the effectiveness of the program.”

The story says Roscosmos’ budget for space station operations was reduced as part of a severe cut in the space program’s funding. Russia’s national budget has been under severe pressure due to a reduction in oil revenues and Western sanctions over its annexation of Crimea.

Another factor is that the three cosmonauts aboard the station apparently don’t have enough to do. This problem is a result of the severe quality control problems that  have bedeviled the Russian space program in recent years.

Russia had planned to expand its part of the station by adding the Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM) and two related modules to support it between 2013 and 2015. However, Khrunichev botched the job manufacturing the MLM. An inspection of the module after it was completed found debris in pipes and other flaws. Now, the launches are planned for 2018 and 2019.

“If you look at the original plan, we have assumed the launch multipurpose laboratory module for the International Space Station, and only then increase the crew,” Krikalev explained in an interview with Izvestiya. But MLM launch postponed several times, and the crew nevertheless increased. From my point of view, three people in the Russian segment, taking into account a set of equipment, which is now – it’s a bust.”

Reducing the crew size will free up seats on the Soyuz transport to carry space tourists, which would bring in funding for the hard-pressed space program. Russia has not been able to fly tourists since the American space shuttle retired in 2011, forcing the Soyuz to shoulder the entire burden of taking crews to the space station.

At a press conference earlier this week, NASA officials acknowledged they had received Russia’s proposal for the crew reduction.

“At this point it’s strictly a proposal they put on the table, and we’ll look at it,” said Kenny Todd, NASA’s space station operations integration manager. “As we do with all these kinds of things, we’ll trade it against whatever risk it might put into the program. First and foremost, the risk to our crew on board and the station itself. And then from there we start looking at the options and see what we can do as a partnership to try to either accommodate it, or help them realize why that’s a bad thing.”

  • Kapitalist

    Russia has been the leader in rocket engines and human spaceflight in LEO. Now they are quickly losing the engine leadership to private US companies. And with this news they are cutting down their human space flight too. The money they profit from selling one seat per flight will give incentive to sell all three seats, while they can. In a few years Dragon and the Starliner will retire Soyuz. And the scandalously crooked Vostochny is malplaced far away from everything and with a forest as its launch range, so they don’t even have any sound infrastructure any more.

  • windbourne

    I’m not sure of that.
    Once the west is flying on private, Russia will have 3-4 seats released.
    They could use that to fly ‘tourist’ or better yet, approach uae and other nations and help them get their space programs going. 2 or 1 could go up and then come back in several weeks.
    With Russia, they could charge 30-40 million per seat.
    That would help pay their launch costs while starting multiple nations space program.
    That will enable the moon around 2020-2022.

  • The telling thing will be when Space Adventures announces the availability of a tourist seat to the ISS every 6 months. The tourist goes up with the new Russian crew members and then goes down a few days later with the returning crew. A tourist seat will be available every 6 months that way.

  • Kapitalist

    But the cash revenues will not be reinvested in anything space flight related. It will just be stolen by the managers. I as a space nerd of course think it is good that they fly anything to space. It could be worse. And it will be.

    I think that in ten years Russia will no longer be considered a space nation. Which would be a hard truth for Russians to accept. They are rightly very proud of their space legacy, earned during the hardest of times imaginable. But Putin just bribes it away.

  • P.K. Sink

    The Russians are making big plans with the Chinese. I don’t think that they’re quite ready to hang up the GOING OUT OF BUSINESS sign just yet.

  • duheagle

    If by “the Moon around 2020-2022” you are referring to a Russian manned landing there, not a chance. If you’re referring to something else, please specify.

    The rest of your notions look altogether plausible. In tough times, you try to get the best price you can for whatever assets you’ve got. Your scenario would appear to do that for the Russians.

  • JamesG

    It depends on how much they screw each other over. The Russians and Chinese don’t really get along. The Russians have the technology and the Chinese have the money. Their cooperation today is just like it was in the Cold War, strictly business.

  • duheagle

    A lot of Western businessmen made big plans with the Chinese too. Many of them got burned. It looks as though Russian may be taking over from English as the dominant language in the sucker line.

  • Kapitalist

    Might be. The Chinese should be interested in Russian space station experiences. But the Russians seek cooperation to generate revenues or share costs. Not because of higher ambitions. I don’t think China has anything to offer in return, in terms of space competence and capabilities, just money.

  • Jeff2Space

    The Russian space program is always making big plans. But the only way the plans with the Chinese will work out is if the Chinese agree to pay the Russians cash, like the US has been doing for Soyuz seats and for some cargo on Progress. No bucks, no Buck Rogers.

  • Jeff2Space

    Considering the Chinese are already flying their own space stations, I’m not sure they’re all that interested in “Russian space station experiences”.

  • Kapitalist

    It seems to me that the Chinese “space stations” are versions of Soviet era Salyut/Soyuz/Progress stuff. More like the Gemini program than the Skylab or MIR. I think the Chinese could make good use of Russian experience when they go on to a truly permanent multi-modular space station. I hope they design it as a prototype for an interplanetary spaceship, rather than as a microgravity laboratory. The latter idea doesn’t seem to have as much commercial potential (such as materials research) as was once hoped for.

  • mlc449

    Russia’s a mess!

  • P.K. Sink

    Yeah, it’s the Russian Mafia crawling into bed with the Chinese Military. What could possibly go wrong? But they would both like to stick their thumbs in America’s eyes. It’s just too bad that commercial space, with NASA’s help, will probably kick their collective butts.

  • JamesG

    The world is a mess. Don’t let places that seem fine fool you. Lots of social, political, and economic tensions have built up and the powers that be are not doing anything to relieve them because they are fine with the status quo.

  • windbourne

    Oh, Russia does NOT have the money to shoot to the moon by themselves.
    I believe that both Bigelow and SpaceX will be going to the moony by 2022, if not sooner.
    The reason is that SpaceX AND Bigelow need lots of customers to use their main systems. For example, Bigelow needs nations to lease/rent space on BA-330s, or bigger. By going to LEO, they really will not have the mass that they need.
    BUT, by going to the moon, they will heave nearly every nation on this planet wanting to join them.

    Then there is SpaceX. They have their BFR ( / MCT ). That is supposed to take 150-250 tonnes to LEO. There is NO WAY that regular cargo will go up on that.
    Yet, SpaceX needs that to launch every quarter, if not more often.
    So, how do they get that to happen? The moon.
    Basically, SpaceX’s BFR, FH, and even F9 will be very busy with LEO, but also with the moon prior to Mars.

    And once new private space starts going to the moon, not only will NASA be a customer, but, you can bet on it that ESA will likely make use of it to fill in gaps on their capabilities so that they can get to the moon. Then that leaves Russia and China.
    Russia will insist on going and will follow ESA’s path.
    China will go it alone since the GOP will, rightly, deny China access to private space systems.

  • windbourne

    Russia made big plans with ESA and regularly, nothing came of it. I think that both were hoping to milk the other for tech/money.
    China gives NOTHING for free. If Russia thinks that CHina makes a good partner for going to the moon, they are going to be SHOCKED to find out that China’s money, is China’s money. China will invest, but it will insist that all of the money flow into CHinese companies and NOT into Russian companies. IOW, Russia will come to realize that Europe’s and America’s interactions with them was as friends, not as enemies, or as a leach.

  • windbourne

    russia will not see a PENNY from China.

  • windbourne

    problem is, that China has a lot more tech now, than they used to.
    And I DOUBT that China has any intention of helping Russia along. They are a totalitarian gov and want to have full control. The idea of sharing with putin will not appeal to them.

  • P.K. Sink

    Good points. But Russia is currently working with Europe on Exomars and the Europeanized Soyuz.

  • JamesG

    Oh of course not. And the Russians wouldn’t be selling to them if they didn’t need the cash because time and again, the PRC has bought something and license or not, they reverse engineer it and produce a domestic version.

  • duheagle

    What places seem fine to you these days?

  • duheagle

    You might be right. I’m certainly not prepared to say you’re wrong. SpaceX’s position has always been that the company, itself, has no particular interest in the Moon, but it’ll be happy to take paying customers anywhere they want to go. Shotwell just reiterated this at the recent smallsat conference.

    Bigelow certainly wants to go to the Moon, but he also wants to put stations in LEO. I think he’s likelier to do LEO before Luna, but time will tell. Perhaps the ESA will make him an offer before Woerner leaves office and Bigelow will follow the money.

    In any case, I think LEO will still be a bigger deal than the Moon a decade from now. That doesn’t mean the Moon will be nothing, by the way. I just think you may be seriously underestimating the number of players with interests in LEO and the cash to pursue them.

    If Russia goes to the Moon it will, indeed, be on someone else’s dime. It certainly won’t be on their own. Can’t see much current incentive for ESA to pay Russia’s way, though. ESA’d be likelier to throw in with the Chinese, except that China isn’t going Moonward very fast and Woerner would like to get something going before he leaves the directorship of ESA.

    The details will always prove hard to predict. Even the large trends are no cinch to descry. All I can say for sure is that things lunar will be much clearer five years hence than they are now. So will much else.

  • windbourne

    There is no doubt that BA will do Leo before Luna. Problem is, that customers, or other nations startup space programs, will not get moving until there is something new to shoot for. IOW, once BA is going for Luna, then LEO is a huge deal.

  • windbourne

    Yup.
    Funny thing is, American businesses ignore that issue ( and Germany with trans rapid ), and continue to chase money they will not get.

  • windbourne

    Sure, but each is funding their portion.

  • JamesG

    Those that have money.

  • mlc449

    So the US, EU, Japan, South Korea, China, Australia, Canada, and pretty much every other industrialized nation of Earth so. The truth is the world isn’t actually as bad as many hysterically claim it is. In fact we’re in one of the greatest calming periods in human history. It’s a great time to be alive, with global poverty levels dropping rapidly, hunger and malnutrition also falling. By most metrics the world IS getting better. Celebrate this fact.

  • therealdmt

    But I thought the sky was supposed to be falling?!

  • Jeff2Space

    But the Chinese are already building their multi-modular station. Again, I don’t think they need Russian “experience” in this area. The Chinese space program appears to be quite capable.