Stranded ISS crew to get a new spacecraft
Stranded ISS crew (sort of)
Several media sources are reporting this week on an upcoming launch by Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos – on Friday, February 24, 2023 – to provide a ride home for two cosmonauts and one U.S. astronaut currently aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
The space travelers – Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin, and U.S. astronaut Frank Rubio – are aboard ISS without a designated ship to get home. That’s because the ship that carried them to ISS sprang a very visible coolant leak in its radiator cooling loop – apparently from a micrometeoroid collision – in December.
The Russian crew capsule Soyuz MS-22 delivered the three new crew members to ISS on September 21, 2022. While docked at the ISS, video showed the Soyuz spraying a “snowstorm” of particles in December. Turns out the leak was the reason.
The crew’s mission was supposed to end in March. Then, Roscosmos made the decision to leave the crew in place within ISS until September. Still, in case ISS needs to be evacuated, they need a functioning ship for the ride home.
Now on sale! The 2023 EarthSky lunar calendar. A unique and beautiful poster-sized calendar showing phases of the moon every night of the year. Treat yourself!
This Friday’s ‘rescue’ mission for stranded ISS crew
Roscosmos has been planning to send up another uncrewed ship to the ISS for the stranded crew to eventually return home in. They made the date of that launch official on Monday, when the Russian state news agency TASS reported that the State Commission formally granted a permit for launch on Friday, February 24, 2023.
The three ‘stranded’ astronauts – part of the seven-member Expedition 68 crew – were originally supposed to return to Earth in March 2023. In the new plan, they will extend their stay until September 2023.
Space.com reported that the reason they are extending their stay in orbit an extra six months is because the:
next Soyuz [the Soyuz launching Friday] will stay docked at the ISS until its successor – a vehicle that will carry crew – is ready to go.
Launch of the Soyuz MS-23 from Russia will be at 3:24:27 a.m. Moscow time on Friday, February 24. That translates to 00:24:27 UTC on February 24, or 6:24 p.m. CST on February 23.
The Soyuz MS-23 launch was originally scheduled for February 20, but faced a delay due to a second leaky spacecraft.
A 2nd leak, in a 2nd craft
In February, Roscosmos detected a second spacecraft docked at the ISS was also leaking. This second spacecraft is a supply ship named Progress 82 and known as Progress MS-21 to the Russians. The supply ship launched back on October 28, 2022, and reached the ISS without incident and docked successfully.
After discovering the leak on February 11, engineers undocked Progress 82 from the ISS on February 18. They took photos to inspect the craft. Then, loaded with trash, Progress 82 fired its engine to de-orbit. Less than an hour later, it impacted in the Southern Pacific Ocean. (This area is nicknamed the spacecraft cemetery, because it is an uninhabited area targeted for re-entry of spacecraft such as the former Mir space station.)
Micrometeoroids likely cause of leaks
Roscosmos believes the sources of both leaks are tiny bits of rock and other material in space (micrometeoroids). On February 21, Anatoly Zak at RussianSpaceWeb.com reported that Roscosmos said:
Based on the preliminary assessment of the situation with Progress MS-21 at RKK Energia, the cargo ship had experienced an external impact … This conclusion was made based the photos which revealed changes on the exterior of the vehicle … the holes discovered (on the photos after undocking) had not been seen either during the manufacturing of the Progress MS-21 at the factory, nor during its preparation for launch, nor during its flight and docking with the ISS.
“External impact” blamed for coolant loss (…again, this time on the Progress MS-21 cargo ship).
DETAILS: https://t.co/QA5zHmYE03 pic.twitter.com/h7GWfWPJuJ
— Anatoly Zak (@RussianSpaceWeb) February 21, 2023
Despite two recent leaks due to possible micrometeoroid strikes, all sources agree that the likelihood of another impact to the soon-to-launch Soyuz MS-23 is low.
Bottom line: The Russians will launch an empty space capsule to the space station on Friday for the stranded ISS crew to eventually ride home in.