Jan 11 (Reuters) – Russia said on Wednesday it would launch another Soyuz spacecraft next month to bring home two cosmonauts and a U.S. astronaut from the International Space Station after their original capsule was struck by a micrometeoroid and started leaking last month.
The leak came from a tiny puncture – less than 1 millimeter wide – on the external cooling system of the Soyuz MS-22 capsule, one of two return capsules docked with the ISS that can bring members of home crew.
Russia said a new capsule, Soyuz MS-23, would be sent on February 20 to replace the damaged Soyuz MS-22, which will be returned to Earth empty.
“After analyzing the condition of the spacecraft, thermal calculations and technical documentation, it was concluded that the MS-22 should be landed without a crew on board,” said Yuri Borisov, the head of the Russian space agency. Roscosmos.
Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin and American astronaut Francisco Rubio were due to complete their mission in March but will now extend it by a few months and return aboard MS-23.
“They’re ready to accept whatever decision we give them,” Joel Montalbano, NASA’s ISS program manager, told a news conference. “I might have to steal more ice to reward them,” he added.
“SPACE IS NOT A SAFE PLACE”
The MS-23, which was due to welcome three new crew members in March, will instead depart from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on an unmanned rescue mission next month.
If there is an emergency in the meantime, Roscosmos said it will consider whether the MS-22 spacecraft can be used to rescue the crew. In this scenario, temperatures in the capsule could reach unhealthy levels of 30 to 40 degrees Celsius (86 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit).
“In an emergency, when the crew will have a real threat to life on the station, then probably the danger of staying on the station may be higher than falling into an unhealthy Soyuz,” said Sergei Krikalev, chief Space Russian with crew. programs, says.
The incident has disrupted Russian ISS operations, forcing its cosmonauts to cancel spacewalks as officials focus on the leaky capsule, which serves as a lifeboat for the crew.
The leak is also a problem for NASA. The US agency said last month it was studying whether SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft could provide an alternative return home for some ISS crew members, in case Russia is not in able to launch another Soyuz.
NASA and Roscosmos believe the leak was caused by a micrometeoroid – a small particle of space rock – hitting the capsule at high speed.
“Space is not a safe place, nor a safe environment. We have meteorites, we have a vacuum and we have high temperature and we have complicated hardware that can break down,” Krikalev said.
“Now we are faced with one of the scenarios…we are prepared for this situation.”
Reporting by Caleb Davis and Joey Roulette, editing by Mark Trevelyan
Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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