Russia to return ISS crew on backup rocket after capsule leak

The leak came from a tiny puncture on the external cooling system of the Soyuz MS-22 capsule

Published : 11 Jan 2023, 03:03 PM
Updated : 11 Jan 2023, 03:03 PM

Russia said on Wednesday it would launch another Soyuz rocket on Feb. 20 to bring home two cosmonauts and a US astronaut from the International Space Station after their original capsule sprang a coolant leak last month.

The leak came from a tiny puncture - less than 1 millimetre wide - on the external cooling system of the Soyuz MS-22 capsule, one of two return capsules docked to the ISS that can bring crew members home.

Russia says the crew will now return on Soyuz MS-23, while the damaged Soyuz MS-22 capsule will be brought back to Earth empty.

"Having analysed the condition of the spacecraft, thermal calculations and technical documentation, it has been concluded that the MS-22 must be landed without a crew on board," Yuri Borisov, the head of Russian space agency Roscosmos, said.

If there is an emergency in the meantime, the agency will look at whether the spacecraft can be used to rescue the crew, he added.

"The expedition of Sergey Prokopyev, Dmitry Petelin and Francisco Rubio to the ISS is being extended. They will return to Earth on Soyuz MS-23," Roskosmos said.

The MS-23 launch had earlier been planned for mid-March, but will instead depart from the Baikonur cosmodrome as an unmanned rescue mission.

The incident has disrupted Russia's ISS activities, forcing its cosmonauts to call off spacewalks as officials focus on the leaky capsule, which serves as a lifeboat for the crew. Russia says the leak may have been caused by a meteoroid impact.

The leak is also a problem for NASA. The US agency said last month it was exploring whether SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft could offer an alternative ride home for some ISS crew members, in case Russia was unable to launch another Soyuz.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher