Spaceflight Now

NASA looks to relieve space station traffic bottlenecks

Posted: October 16, 2009

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In an attempt to alleviate tightly stacked space missions, managers are re-evaluating a long-standing policy banning other spacecraft from arriving or leaving the International Space Station while the space shuttle is docked to the complex.

Since the station's inception, visiting Soyuz and Progress missions have been precluded from docking or undocking from the outpost while a shuttle is attached.

The policy has led to undesirable tight launch periods and delays for several shuttle missions.

NASA had hoped to move up the launch of shuttle Atlantis next month to Nov. 9 to avoid a logjam of launches at Cape Canaveral in mid-November. But those plans would interfere with a Russian launch of a Progress vehicle with a new docking module for the station.

"We're going to be, I think, forced over the next year to make some significant changes to the manifest if we did not clear that," said John Shannon, the space shuttle program manager.

If engineers could get comfortable with allowing Russian spacecraft to arrive and depart, such conflicts would be history. Russian docking ports are located on the opposite end of the complex from the shuttle's location.

"Since the station's gotten so big, it's probably not required to have that constraint in place," Shannon said Friday.

"It's a good problem to have," Shannon said. "It's good to be busy on the ground and it's good to be busy up on orbit."