A power outage at Nasa’s building in Houston disrupted communication between mission control and the International Space Station (ISS) on Tuesday, forcing the space agency to rely on backup control systems for the first time.
The outage meant mission control lost command, telemetry and voice communications with the station in orbit. The power outage hit as upgrade work was under way in the building at Houston’s Johnson Space Center.
The crew was notified of the problem through Russian communication systems, within 20 minutes of the outage.
Space station program manager Joel Montalbano said neither the astronauts nor station were ever in any danger and that backup control systems took over to restore normal communications within 90 minutes. “It wasn’t an issue on board. That was purely a ground problem,” he said. “At no time was the crew or the vehicle in any danger.”
“We knew this work was going on, and in preparation for that we have the backup command and control system that we would use if we have to close the centre for weather emergency, especially important during the hurricane season,” he said.
It is the first time Nasa has had to fire up these backup systems to take control, according to Montalbano. He said Nasa hoped to resolve the issue and be back to normal operations by the end of the day.
Nasa maintains a backup control centre miles from Houston in the event of a disaster requiring evacuations. But in Tuesday’s case, the flight controllers stayed at mission control since the lights and air-conditioning still worked.
“We’ll better understand what happened and then take lessons learned and move forward,” Montalbano said.
The tensions between the US and Russia on Earth do not prevent their respective space agencies from working together, although Moscow has said it will withdraw from the ISS after 2024 and build its own station instead. In February, Moscow launched a rescue vessel to the ISS to bring home three crew stranded after their original capsule was hit by a meteoroid.
Last year, cosmonauts arrived at the ISS wearing yellow flight suits with blue accents, colours that match the Ukrainian flag, shortly after Russia’s invasion began. The message, if any was intended, was unclear. Months later, Russia’s space agency published photos appearing to show cosmonauts on the ISS holding the flags of the self-proclaimed republics in Luhansk and Donetsk.
With Associated Press