Russia might send rescue ship for ISS crew after Soyuz capsule leak

Allegedly, Russia is considering whether or not it is required to send up a rescue mission to the ISS to recover astronauts if Soyuz is too badly damaged.
Christopher McFadden
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Allegedly, Russia are weighing up whether or not to rescue the leaky Soyuz spacecraft.

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According to Phys.org, Russia is reviewing the ongoing viability of the Soyuz crew spacecraft that is docked at the International Space Station (ISS) after it started leaking last week. If necessary, they may send up a rescue vehicle for the stranded crew.

On December 14, 2022, the MS-22 spacecraft started shooting coolant into space, and on dramatic NASA TV visuals, white particles that looked like snowflakes were seen streaming out of the back.

Sergei Krikalev, head of human spaceflight initiatives at Russia's Roscosmos, informed reporters that the damage was being evaluated during a press conference hosted by the US space agency.

The exact method of returning the spacecraft's crew to Earth is still in the air. Options include sending another Soyuz to fetch them or, perhaps less likely, sending them back in the leaky capsule without most of their coolant.

Russia might send rescue ship for ISS crew after Soyuz capsule leak
The ISS in orbit.

If the former, a scheduled launch of another Soyuz capsule from Baikonur Cosmodrome in mid-March 2023 might be moved early and launched uncrewed if a thermal analysis determines how hot it will become inside the cabin determines that MS-22 is unsuited for crewed flight.

“The temperature [on the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft] has stabilized and has not exceeded 30C lately. Today, we have no fears, primarily about the life of the crew on the ISS,” said Joel Montalbano, NASA's International Space Station program manager, who was also on the call, said.

“The temperature has stabilized after we brought air ducts there from the Russian segment and are maintaining the temperature regime by ventilators,” he added.

"They're looking at late February to send up the next Soyuz vehicle," added Montalbano.

In such a scenario, the crewless spacecraft would return empty and be replaced by the other Soyuz craft.

The cause of the leak is still a mystery

NASA astronaut Frank Rubio and Russian cosmonauts Dmitry Petelin and Sergey Prokopyev were transported to the ISS by MS-22 in September this year.

There are now seven people on board the space station, but if MS-22 is declared unsafe, the ISS would only have one "lifeboat" that can accommodate four people if it needs to be evacuated.

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Josh Cassada and Nicole Mann from the United States, Koichi Wakata from Japan, and Anna Kikina from Russia came on a SpaceX Crew Dragon in October.

According to Montalbano, it's still unknown what caused the damage. The hull was punctured from a different angle. Therefore it does not appear that the Geminid meteor shower, an annual phenomenon, was to blame.

"Both the trajectory team in Houston and the trajectory team in Moscow confirmed it was not from the meteor showers," he said.

He said that more investigation is still required to establish if it was brought on by naturally occurring micrometeoroids, artificial trash in orbit, or a hardware malfunction.

The Wednesday postponed spacewalk to improve the station's solar panels was completed on Thursday.

Since the beginning of the Russian offensive in Ukraine and subsequent Western sanctions on Russia, space has remained a unique collaboration area between Moscow and Washington.

After the Cold War's Space Race conflict, US and Russian relations improved, leading to the 1998 launch of the International Space Station (ISS).