On Wednesday, the Russian space agency said that it will replace a damaged spacecraft now docked at the International Space Station with an empty Soyuz capsule in February. The damaged spacecraft is currently being docked to the ISS.
After the Soyuz that was docked to the space station began emitting a shower of white particles on December 14, it became clear that a replacement would be required. It turned out that the particles were coolant from the spacecraft, which raised doubts about whether or not a portion of the capsule may overheat during flight, making the vessel dangerous to take passengers back to Earth.
The Soyuz is the sole kind of spacecraft that Russia operates and uses to ferry humans to and from the International Space Station (ISS). The damaged spacecraft had landed to the space station in September, bringing with it three astronauts from different countries: Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitriy Petelin of Russia, and Frank Rubio of NASA. The astronauts were supposed to return to Earth in March, but it has been decided that they would stay in orbit for a few more months longer than originally planned.
The next Soyuz, which was supposed to launch on February 20 with three astronauts aboard — two from Roscosmos, the state corporation that oversees Russia’s space industry, and one from NASA — will instead launch with its seats empty. The Roscosmos astronauts were supposed to come from Russia, while the NASA astronaut was supposed to come from the United States. The damaged Soyuz spacecraft is scheduled to return to Earth without any passengers sometime in March, once it has completed its journey to the international space station. It is scheduled to touch down in Kazakhstan at the normal return location, where it will be carrying a number of experiments as well as cargo.
After the leak had happened, astronauts aboard the space station used a camera that was attached to the end of a robotic arm to examine the leak while engineers on the ground examined the region that had been damaged.
According to the findings of the analysis, the compromised Soyuz’s cramped interior might reach temperatures of one hundred degrees or more with significant levels of humidity if humans were present. This would not only put the crew in risk, but it might also result in the malfunctioning of critical equipment, such as the computer aboard the Soyuz.
There is a greater degree of danger in the event of an emergency until the new Soyuz comes. For example, if there is a significant leak, it may be necessary to evacuate the station. The seven astronauts who are presently on the International Space Station have emergency lifeboats in the form of a Soyuz and a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. However, the administration took a cautious approach to the hazards.
During the press conference that took place on Wednesday, the executive director of the human spaceflight programmes for Roscosmos, Sergei Krikalev, said that the astronauts will attempt to stay on board the station. In the event that there was a leak, for instance, they may shut the hatches in order to contain the leak. However, there are certain scenarios in which the danger of staying put carries a greater risk than the danger of returning in a damaged Soyuz.
According to Mr. Montalbano, there have been negotiations with SpaceX to determine whether or not it would be viable for one of the Soyuz crew members to fly back to Earth in the Crew Dragon in the event of an emergency evacuation.
According to Mr. Krikalev, an examination found that the damage was brought on by a micrometeoroid with a diameter of around one millimetre that was moving at a speed of almost seven kilometres per second, which is equivalent to more than 15,000 miles per hour. The radiator aboard the Soyuz was struck by the micrometeoroid, which resulted in a leak of the coolant.
Due to the fact that the leak was located at the end of the Soyuz that was the farthest away from the docking port, it was almost impossible to undertake a repair while in orbit. According to what Mr. Krikalev remarked, “You need to not only patch a hole in the radiator, but you also need to fill it with a liquid, with a coolant.” “In addition, the process is so hard and fraught with potential danger that it would be far safer to just replace the car.”
According to Mr. Krikalev, a piece of orbital debris from a rocket component or any other human-made item could not have been responsible for its movement because of the direction and speed of the object. The debate was spurred in part by a test of an antisatellite missile conducted by the Russian government in November 2021. The test resulted in the creation of a debris cloud in orbit, which presented a threat to the space station.
It is quite possible that NASA will have to change the timetable for additional trips to the space station as a result of the rerouting of Soyuz vehicles during the months of February and March. This will include the next launch of the SpaceX Crew Dragon.