US space services company Spacehab has been in talks with NASA for several months over the commercial supply of Soyuz capsules for crew return from the International Space Station (ISS).

Webster, Texas-based Spacehab has offered to provide the Soyuz through its relationship with Russia's RKK Energia. Such a deal would solve the problem facing NASA when Russia's commitment to provide ISS crew return ends in October 2005, as the space agency does not have its own vehicle and is prohibited by US law from buying Soyuz directly from Russia.

NASA has also been in talks with Russia, but no solution is expected until after the US presidential election on 2 November (Flight International, 3-9 August.)

"Our offer would help get around [the prohibition], although there still seems to be some political concern at the moment," says Spacehab. "After the election we expect someone to take the political risk they would not have taken before. They are struggling to keep a crew of two [on the ISS] and we've proposed a solution where they could have a six-person crew."

The proposed solution involves a Spacehab/Energia cargo vessel that could dock a second Soyuz to the ISS, even if a Space Shuttle is in place. Another proposal involves entirely commercial ISS cargo missions, leaving Shuttle flights to complete ISS assembly. This requires development of a reusable cargo vessel, which Spacehab is discussing with Energia. NASA may increase ISS crew size from two after completion of the first Shuttle return-to-flight mission, says Bill Gerstenmaier, ISS programme manager.



Source: Flight International