Russia will send a replacement Soyuz to bring 3 ISS crews to Earth

Russia will send a replacement Soyuz to bring 3 ISS crews to Earth

Russia will send a replacement Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) on February 20 to bring three astronauts to Earth – two Russians and one American – after the capsule that was supposed to carry them suffered damage.

The Soyuz MS-22 capsule, currently docked with the ISS, recorded a major coolant leak in mid-December. The images showed a jet of particles emerging from the rear of the vehicle.

After reviewing the condition of the damaged ship, the Russian space agency (Roscosmos) deemed it best to send another, the Soyuz MS-23, to bring back Russian cosmonauts Sergei Prokopiev and Dmitry Petelin and American astronaut Frank Rubio.

The capsule “will be launched on February 20, 2023 without passengers” but with equipment, Roscosmos said in a statement.

Initially, the launch of this ship was scheduled for March 16 to take three more crew members to the ISS.

The return date of the two Russian cosmonauts and the American astronaut, initially scheduled for March 28, has not been announced, but their mission has been “extended by several months”, indicated the director of manned flights of Roscosmos, Sergei, during a press conference. .

The damaged capsule will return to Earth without passengers, probably “between mid-March and the end of March”, he added.

– Emergency scenarios –

Pending the arrival of the replacement ship, in the event of an emergency requiring the evacuation of the ISS, the Russian and American space agencies are studying different scenarios.

However, they stressed that this possibility is highly unlikely. The first would be for the three crew members to return to the damaged Soyuz, despite concerns about the temperature that may be recorded inside the ship upon landing.

The second would be to reduce “the thermal load” on board the Soyuz, “by reducing the crew”. A crew member would then be transported by a SpaceX spacecraft, also currently docked with the ISS.

In addition to the three crew members who arrived aboard the Soyuz, the ISS currently has four other occupants, who arrived aboard the SpaceX Dragon capsule.

The idea would be to insure only one person on board, “in the area where the cargo is normally located”, explained Joel Montalbano, manager of the ISS program at NASA.

– Impact of micrometeorites –

The leak was detected on December 14 on the Soyuz as two Russian cosmonauts were preparing for a spacewalk.

In an initial assessment of the causes of the leak, possible ruptures caused by small naturally occurring meteorites, man-made debris in orbit, or material failure were considered.

On Wednesday, Roscomos said the version of a micrometeorite impact “has been experimentally proven.” According to the Russian space agency, it opened a hole “less than a millimeter in diameter” in a cooling tube.

Given the speed at which experts believe the object hit the ISS, it can only be a “randomly directed meteorite” and not a piece of debris, which “would not have couldn’t stay in that orbit” at that speed, Krikaliov explained, dismissing any kind of mechanical problem.

The ISS is one of the few areas in which Russia and the United States still cooperate, after the start of the Russian offensive in Ukraine on February 24 and the Western sanctions that followed the conflict.

Last month, Roscosmos director Yuri Borisov thanked the Americans for their solidarity on board the ISS, who “reached out a hand to help us” at a time when bilateral relations are at their worst.

The ISS was launched in 1998, during a period of collaboration between Moscow and Washington, following the space race between the two countries during the Cold War.

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© Agence France-Presse

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