Russia to launch ‘rescue ship’ to space after leak strands astronauts

NASA: Particles leak from Soyuz spacecraft

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Russia is set to approve the launch of a “rescue” ship up to the International Space Station (ISS) this week to bring three astronauts home to Earth. The mission will go ahead on Friday, February 24 and will see the Soyuz MS-23 capsule launched without a crew in order to replace its predecessor, the MS-22. It has been deemed potentially unsafe to travel in. The problem with the MS-22 crew capsule — which began leaking coolant last December — has left the ISS short of “lifeboats” in the event of an emergency. There are currently seven astronauts aboard the orbiting laboratory, but only one viable capsule capable of evacuating four people presently docked with the station.

MS-22 transported Commander Sergey Prokopyev and Flight Engineer Dmitry Petelin of Roscosmos and NASA Flight Engineer Francisco Rubio up to the ISS last September.

They were joined on the space station in October by NASA’s Josh Cassada and Nicole Mann, Russia’s Anna Kikina and Japan’s Koichi Wakata.

However, the trio’s way back to Earth was compromised by a suspected micrometeorite impact that caused a leak in the craft’s coolant system.

Being potentially too hot to travel safely in, MS-22 will now be sent back home empty, and its successor sent up to the station without its crew.

These astronauts will now launch on the subsequent Soyuz-MS-24 mission later this year, replacing Prokopyev, Petelin and Rubio and freeing them up to return to Earth in the MS-23 capsule.

Regarding the deployment of the MS-23 capsule, a spokesperson for the State Space Corporation Roscosmos told the AFP: “The launch is expected on February 24.”

Specifically, engineers have proposed that the Soyuz MS-23 capsule might lift-off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 03.34am local time (00.34 GMT).

Although a state commission is required to sign off on the new date, it is widely expected that the new schedule will be approved.

Roscosmos have also reported that a thorough examination of the Soyuz MS-23 capsule which they are looking to launch Friday has revealed no damage.

Roscosmos had previously hoped to launch MS-23 today, but opted to delay the mission after another capsule developed a coolant leak up in orbit.

The “Progress MS-21” supply ship has been docked with the orbital laboratory since late October last year — having carried up 5,560 lbs in food, water and fuel.

Prior to the detection of the leak, the capsule had already been refilled with waste, in preparation for being dispatched from the ISS on February 15 to burn up on re-entry.

According to Roscomos, the new leak posed no threat to the ISS, as the hatch connecting the Progress MS-21 and the ISS had been sealed.

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Another supply ship bearing nearly three tons of food, water and fuel successfully docked at the station on February 11 shortly before the leak in its predecessor was announced.

Regardless, Rosmos elected to postpone the launch of MS-23 “until the cause of the emergency situation [was] determined.”

Last week, Roscosmos’s Executive Director for Human Space Programs, Sergei Krikalev, said: “We need to conduct a thorough analysis to make sure that it wouldn’t affect similar components that will be used in the future.”

This evaluation process appears to have gone more smoothly than expected, with it having originally been thought that the launch of MS-23 might need to be pushed into March.

Roscosmos have also announced that the leaking Progress MS-21 will be deorbited — to burn up during atmospheric reentry — on February 19.

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