Russia may send empty Soyuz capsule to ISS for stranded astronauts

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The Russian space agency Roscosmos, in collaboration with NASA, is looking into whether an unmanned Soyuz capsule should be sent to the ISS. Currently, several astronauts are unable to return to Earth due to a leak in another capsule.

The space organizations do not yet know whether the leak in the current Soyuz MS-22 is so serious that the astronauts cannot return to earth safely, says Roscosmos CEO Sergei Krikalev in a press conference. If the damaged capsule is indeed not suitable for a return trip, an unmanned Soyuz capsule could be launched from Baikonur in Kazakhstan. A launch of a Soyuz spacecraft capsule is scheduled for mid-March, but this could be brought forward to late February, when the capsule would be sent empty to the ISS.

Krikalev argues that the damaged Soyuz MS-22 could return to Earth without astronauts in that scenario. There would have been ‘a hole with a diameter of less than a millimeter’ in the radiator system, from which all the coolant had leaked. This may disrupt the temperature control in the capsule, but the automatic and analog flight system should be fine.

It is not clear what caused the leak. At first it was speculated that it was the result of a small meteor shower. Both American and Russian authorities contradict this; the direction of impact would not correspond to the damage in question. The incident is over captured images. The capsule is docked to the ISS, but poses no threat to the rest of the space station.

Soyuz MS-22 brought Russian cosmonauts Sergei Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin to the ISS in September this year. The American Frank Rubio was also transported to the space station in this way and the intention is that the capsule will eventually also facilitate the return journey. A SpaceX capsule previously brought the Americans Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, the Japanese Koichi Wakata and the Russian Anna Kikina to the ISS and is also the reentry vehicle for them.

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