Amid tensions with Russia, SpaceX launches Crew 8 to the space station.

SpaceX is preparing to send its next astronauts to the International Space Station, possibly as early as Saturday night, in a flight that comes as the station continues to eject air and recently increased is doing so at rate.

In a briefing earlier this week, Joel Montalbano, program manager for NASA’s International Space Station, said the leak has recently doubled to one to two pounds per day. The leak is located in the Russian section of the station and is sealed off from the rest of the station the size of a football field by closing a hatch in that area.

“Teams are looking at it,” he said. “We are working with our Russian colleagues on the next steps. There is no impact on crew safety or vehicle operations yet, but everyone should be aware.

SpaceX’s flight to the station includes three NASA astronauts — Jeanette Epps, Matthew Dominick and Michael Barratt — as well as a Russian astronaut, Alexander Grebenkin. They will lift off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 11:16 p.m. on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and travel to the station in a Dragon spacecraft.

The weather at the launch site is only 40 percent favorable, so the Crew-8 mission could go another day. If SpaceX launches Crew-8 on Saturday night, Dragon is scheduled to dock with the ISS around 2:10 p.m. Sunday.

The presence of the Russian cosmonaut on the flight is another reminder of the tight partnership between Russia and the United States in space that continues despite rising tensions between the countries over the war in Ukraine. Russia has also threatened to withdraw from the partnership in protest against US sanctions, and its space program has suffered since SpaceX now routinely delivers people to the ISS, a task NASA has too much for Russia to do. It was well paid.

Last year, Russia had to send a replacement Soyuz spacecraft to the station, after one was damaged and leaked coolant during a shutdown on the space station. Russian officials later determined that the spacecraft was not safe to carry home its crew of two Russian astronauts and one NASA astronaut.

SpaceX’s launch also comes amid concerns that Russia is developing a nuclear weapon that could be detonated to target satellites in space, prompting alarm among members of Congress and national security officials. The bell has spread to those who say it could destroy a vital layer of the country’s communications. Intelligence infrastructure. Officials have said such a weapon would be indiscriminate, and could potentially damage the ISS and the station, which has been put into orbit by China.

When asked about the news of the threat, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said, “It concerns me because, naturally, if those newspaper reports are true, we have to have our astronauts on the International Space Station.” will be concerned about the safety of and the safety of their foreigners. Astronauts, which will include Roscosmos cosmonauts. We will also be concerned about our satellites, NASA satellites.

As for the current leak, Montalbano said it’s in an area where “there have been a few leaks” in the past, he said. “Actually, we’ve fixed a few cracks in this module.” Still, he said, the rest of the ISS is “solid.” The hatch is expected to remain closed until early April, and NASA is working with its Russian colleagues at Roscosmos on “next steps and what we’re going to do,” he said.

The flight is SpaceX’s eighth crewed flight to the ISS, and its ninth human spaceflight mission for NASA, including a test flight of a pair of astronauts in May 2020.

Boeing, the other company NASA has hired to ferry astronauts to the ISS, has yet to fly a single person into orbit in its Starliner capsule. But after years of delays, two NASA astronauts, Sunita Williams and Barry “Butch” Wilmore, are finally scheduled to fly to the station in late April on a test flight.

The flight was delayed last year due to concerns about flammable tape inside the capsule, as well as a design problem with the parachute, which is supposed to slow the capsule as it flies back to Earth from the atmosphere. NASA is eager to fly the Starliner so that it has two vehicles certified to carry crews to the station, and provide backup in case of a system failure.

“We’re excited about this flight,” Steve Stich, program manager for NASA’s commercial staff, said during the briefing. “At the Boeing factory, the Starliner spacecraft is pretty much shut down. We’ve loaded the fluids for the cooling system. The next big event is really loading the propellant on the crew module and the propellant on the service module, and that’s in March. It will be in the middle.”

In a statement, Boeing said teams have already packed the spacecraft with 759 pounds of supplies, including supplies, equipment, personal hygiene items for the astronauts, as well as clothing and food.

SpaceX is also moving forward with the next flight of Starship, its next-generation, fully reusable rocket booster and spacecraft that NASA wants to use to land astronauts on the moon. During its second flight, in November, the spacecraft successfully separated from the booster. But then, a leak occurred during the planning of the supplemental liquid oxygen that “led to a combustion event and resulted in a fire that caused a loss of communication between the spacecraft’s flight computers.” SpaceX said in a recent statement. As a result, his plane’s emergency flight termination system destroyed the vehicle.

The Federal Aviation Administration recently signed off on an investigation into SpaceX’s failure, but said the company must still implement a series of corrective actions and “meet all safety, environmental and other applicable regulatory requirements.” The FAA is reviewing SpaceX’s license modification application and expects SpaceX to submit additional required information before making a final decision.

SpaceX has said it has already implemented a number of changes to the next vehicle to fly that will “improve access reduction, fire protection and improved propellant vent operations to increase reliability.” “

The company is already working on future Starship boosters and spacecraft that are “ready-to-fly, to quickly learn flight hardware in a flight environment.”

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