NASA and Roscosmos nearing completion of seat barter agreement

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WASHINGTON — NASA and Roscosmos are in the final stages of completing a long-awaited agreement to allow Russian cosmonauts to fly on commercial crew vehicles and American astronauts on Soyuz spacecraft.

At a July 13 briefing about the upcoming launch of a SpaceX cargo Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station, Dana Weigel, NASA ISS deputy program manager, said the agencies were “pretty close” to finalizing an agreement that would allow seat swaps starting with Crew Dragon and Soyuz missions launching in September.

“We’re hopeful that we’re pretty close to finalizing the agreement. It is in the final stages of review with both NASA and Roscosmos,” she said.

That agreement has been in negotiations and reviews for months by the two agencies as well as the U.S. State Department and Russian Foreign Ministry. NASA has long advocated for the agreement to enable what it calls “mixed crews” or “integrated crews” on spacecraft. That would ensure at least one NASA astronaut and one Roscosmos cosmonaut would be on the station should either Soyuz or commercial crew vehicles be unavailable for an extended period.

In April, NASA ISS managers said they needed to have a seat barter agreement in place by late June to enable a crew swap on the SpaceX Crew-5 and Roscosmos Soyuz MS-22 missions, both launching in September. That deadline passed without an agreement, but NASA said July 1 that discussions were ongoing.

In a conversation with reporters July 12 after an event at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center to mark the release of the first James Webb Space Telescope science images, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson reiterated that it was the agency’s plan to have a crew swap on the upcoming Crew Dragon and Soyuz flights despite the lack of a completed agreement and heightened tensions created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “The drop-dead date has not passed,” he said, but didn’t state what the new deadline was.

Weigel said that Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina was continuing to train to be on the Crew-5 mission, while NASA astronaut Frank Rubio has been training for Soyuz MS-22. “Things are going well there,” she said.

Any deadline, she suggested, is based on the remaining training for those flights and what would happen if Kikina and Rubio needed to be replaced. “It looks like we can wait until, basically, the end of next week, and then we would have some hard trades to make for training,” she said. “That’s really our end target.”

Crew-5 is scheduled to launch for the beginning of September, Weigel said. “We’ll go through the final resolution, looking at the vehicle processing or any issues, and we’ll adjust it if we need to.” Roscosmos previously cited a Sept. 1 launch date for Crew-5. Soyuz MS-22 is planned to launch in mid-September.

NASA has not stated who would go on Crew-5 in place of Kikina if a seat barter agreement is not completed in time. However, the agency previous said that Jeanette Epps, currently assigned to the first operational mission of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner commercial crew, has been “cross-training” on Crew Dragon as well.

At the briefing, NASA and SpaceX officials said they were ready for the cargo Dragon launch, scheduled for 8:44 p.m. Eastern July 14 from the Kennedy Space Center with a 70% chance of favorable weather. The CRS-25 mission will carry more than 2,600 kilograms of science investigations, equipment and supplies to the ISS. An on-time launch would have Dragon docking with the ISS July 16, remaining there for a little more than a month.