Russia is preparing a rescue mission in response to a coolant leak from a Soyuz capsule that docked with International Space Station. NASA announced that Russia’s Roscosmos will send an empty Soyuz to station on February 20th to replace the damaged spacecraft. The vehicle was originally intended to launch in March.
The crew of the leaking capsule will not be present when it returns to Earth. This is expected to happen sometime in March. It will still be carrying experiments and other cargo. Dmitriy Petrolin and Sergey Prokopyev from the Cosmonauts, as well NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, will be able to stay in orbit for several more months rather than departing in March, as originally planned.
The affected craft began spraying particle particles on December 14th. The ISS team quickly identified that the cooling loop of an external radiator was at fault. Investigators later discovered that a micrometeoroid hit the radiator. Roscosmos quickly decided that the Soyuz was not safe enough to be used for a crew return. On reentry, temperatures would have risen to over 100F, posing a threat to both the occupants as well as computer equipment. Sergei Krikalev, an agency representative, stated that it would not be possible to repair in-space because the procedure would prove too difficult.
The ISS crew is prepared to use the Soyuz broken to evacuate in an emergency. This is not ideal as three of the seven ISS crew members would have to take higher risks to return home. Although the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule can be docked, it usually only holds four people. Joel Montalbano from NASA’s ISS program said that SpaceX had been in discussions to see if one Soyuz passenger could be allowed to travel aboard the Crew Dragon if necessary.
Roscomos has been having strained relations with NASA since Russia’s invasion. Russia stated last summer that it would withdraw from the ISS in 2024 to build its own space station. The US has been preparing for a possible Russian withdrawal starting in 2021. However, the capsule leak has effectively forced the two to work closely together — if only briefly.
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