Latest Soyuz capsule leak prompts Russians to plan possible rescue of space station crew | Space

Russia is considering a ‘rescue’ plan to send an empty spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) to bring back three crew members stranded after their Soyuz crew capsule leaked while docked with the outpost in orbit.

Roscosmos and NASA officials said during a press conference On Thursday, they were continuing to investigate how the capsule’s external radiator cooling line suffered a small puncture last week, just as two cosmonauts were preparing for a routine spacewalk.

The vehicle, known as MS-22, began spraying its coolant into space on December 14, with dramatic images from Nasa TV showing white particles resembling snowflakes emerging from the back.

Sergei Krikalev, who heads human spaceflight programs at Roscosmos in Russia, said the damage was being assessed.

No final decision has been made on the precise means of returning the capsule’s crew members to Earth – whether by launching another Soyuz to retrieve them or by the seemingly less likely option of sending them home in the leaking capsule without most of its coolant.

If a thermal analysis – which assesses the temperature inside the cabin – concludes that the MS-22 is unfit for crewed flight, the planned launch of another Soyuz capsule in mid-March from the Baikonur cosmodrome could be advanced and he would launch a – crewed, says Krikalev.

“They plan to send the next Soyuz vehicle at the end of February,” added Joel Montalbano, NASA ISS program manager, who was also on the call.

If so, the damaged spacecraft would return to Earth without a crew.

This is not the first Soyuz leak. In 2018 the module gushed an air leak, which, according to Roscosmos, could have been sabotage. Astronauts used duct tape to seal the leak after it caused a small loss of pressure that was not life threatening.

Nasa astronaut Frank Rubio with Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin before heading to the ISS earlier this year
Nasa astronaut Frank Rubio, right, with Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin before heading to the ISS earlier this year. Photograph: Dmitry Lovetsky/AP

MS-22 carried Russian cosmonauts Dmitry Petelin and Sergey Prokopyev, as well as Nasa astronaut Frank Rubio, to the ISS in September.

There are currently seven people aboard the orbital outpost, but if MS-22 were deemed unfit, it would also mean the ISS only has one ‘lifeboat’ capable of carrying four people. , in case it has to be evacuated.

Americans Josh Cassada and Nicole Mann, Japanese Koichi Wakata and Russian Anna Kikina arrived on a SpaceX Crew Dragon in October.

The cause of the damage is still unclear, Montalbano said. But it doesn’t appear that the Geminid meteor shower – an annual phenomenon – is to blame, since the shell was penetrated from a different direction.

“The trajectory team in Houston and the trajectory team in Moscow confirmed that it was not from the meteor showers,” Montalbano said.

Further work was still needed to determine whether it was caused by natural micrometeoroids, man-made debris in orbit or hardware failure, he added.

Roscosmos head Yury Borisov argued that officials had no fear for the safety of the crew in a live broadcast on the Rossiya-24 TV channel on Wednesday.

“Temperature [on the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft] has stabilized and hasn’t gone above 30C lately. Today we have no fear, mainly about the lives of the ISS crew,” he said. “The temperature stabilized after we introduced air ducts from the Russian segment there and maintained the temperature regime by fans.”

A spacewalk to upgrade the station’s solar panels that was postponed on Wednesday took place on Thursday.

Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report

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