According to a recent statement made by Russian officials, the country will not issue the necessary approvals for the Dragon space capsule to dock to the International Space Station, unless all security and reliability demands are thoroughly satisfied.
The Hawthorne, California-based Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) is developing the Dragon unmanned space capsule for delivering cargo to the orbital facility on the part of the US.
But the Russian Federal Space Agency (RosCosmos) says that it will not allow the Dragon to dock to the station until SpaceX produces proof that all necessary safety protocols have been met to the letter.
At this point, the new capsule has not proven its docking capabilities yet, but a test to see whether they are there is scheduled to take place in December, 2011. The launch will come about a year after Dragon's first flight into low-Earth orbit (LEO).
Though SpaceX is developing Dragon and the Falcon 9 medium-lift delivery system faster than anticipated, it still needs to pass all tests with flying colors. Gaining access to the ISS is very difficult, given the amount of money and work that went into constructing the enormous space structure.
“We will not issue docking permission unless the necessary level of reliability and safety is proven. So far we have no proof that those spacecraft duly comply with the accepted norms of spaceflight safety,” says the head of the RosCosmos Human Spaceflight Department, Alexei Krasov.
SpaceX has already contacted NASA for a docking permit to be issued for this December. Ahead of the mission, the company plans to launch another Dragon in a spaceflight sometime during this summer.
The American space agency has yet to make any comments on Krasov's statement, but it's doubtful that NASA will disagree with its partner's point of view. As much as the organization wants and needs SpaceX to succeed, it too cannot ignore basic safety norms.
NASA has a contract to fly about 12 resupply missions to the ISS using Dragon space capsules. The agreement extends all the way to 2015, when America is expected to finally produce a spacecraft capable of carrying humans to the station as well.
According to some experts, the new statement from RosCosmos is meant to protect the financial interests Russia has in this matter. After the space shuttles retire, it will remain the only country in the world capable of reaching the ISS with a human crew.
However, others are saying that this doesn't make much sense, considering that fees applied to other country for using Russian-built Soyuz and Progress space capsules are in the tens of millions of dollars price range, and not in the hundreds of millions or more, Universe Today