Russian space company Roscosmos said Wednesday it will launch a new spacecraft to return the International Space Station to Earth after some of its crew modules were damaged and a coolant leaked.
Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio aboard the Soyuz MS in September -22 arrives at the space station and plans to use the capsule to return to Earth. But it leaked coolant last month, causing the cabin to heat up.
Roscosmos head Yuri Borisov told reporters that after analyzing the situation and discussing with NASA, Roscosmos decided to launch the new Soyuz MS-23 capsule in unmanned automatic mode on February 20, using which the trio will return.
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Borisov said the missions of Prokopyev, Petelin and Rubio would be extended, but did not specify how long. He stressed that Roscosmos had discussed the move with NASA, which agreed to the plan.
Soyuz MS-23 was originally scheduled to launch in March, carrying two Russian and one American astronauts into orbit.
Borisov said Russian space officials had explored the option of launching the new Soyuz with a crew, but ultimately decided against it because it would take longer to prepare. He added that the Soyuz MS-23 will also deliver some supplies to the International Space Station.
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Borisov said space officials would consider whether the Soyuz MS-22 is safe to use if there is an emergency on the ISS that requires the crew to be evacuated before the new capsule arrives.
The leak from the Soyuz MS-22 was discovered last December, as the Russians were preparing to venture out on a planned spacewalk, and experts on the ground saw a stream of liquid and particles being launched from the Soyuz on live video from space.
Borisov said on Wednesday that the analysis confirmed that the leak was caused by a micrometeoroid. The Soyuz MS-22 will eventually be returned to Earth without a crew, he said.
Both Roscosmos and NASA said the incident did not pose any danger to the space station crew. Officials from Russia and NASA are scheduled to discuss the current plans later Wednesday.
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In addition to Prokopyev, Petelin, and Rubio, four other crew members are currently on the space outpost: NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada; Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Koichi Wakata; and Roscosmos’ Anna Kikina.