Russia to launch mission to rescue stranded ISS crew after meteoroid strike | International Space Station

Russia to launch mission to rescue stranded ISS crew after meteoroid strike | International Space Station

Moscow will launch a rescue shuttle to the International Space Station next month to bring home three crew members who are effectively stuck in orbit after their original capsule was hit by a meteor.

The docked Soyuz MS-22 sprang a major leak last month, spewing radiator coolant into space and prompting a pair of cosmonauts to abort a planned spacewalk.

While Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, said the attack posed no immediate threat to the space station’s crew, it raised concerns about whether everyone on the orbital outpost could return to Earth in an emergency.

With the leak resulting in higher cabin temperatures, the MS-22 was deemed unsuitable, leaving only one operational “rescue payload” docked to the ISS – a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. There are seven people on the space station, but the SpaceX capsule only has four seats.

After discussions, Roscosmos said it has decided to bring forward a planned March launch of Soyuz MS-23 to February 20 so it can be used to carry Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin and US astronaut Francisco Rubio back on Earth.

If a “particularly critical” situation arose on the ISS in the weeks before that, Roscosmos said, the possibility of using the damaged Soyuz MS-22 to rescue the crew would be considered.

The MS-23 was originally planned to carry three crew members, but would go empty as a salvage vessel. Roscosmos chief Yuri Borisov did not say when Prokopyev, Petelin and Rubio would return to Earth in the spare Soyuz.

The damaged MS-22 will return without a crew once its replacement arrives, Roscosmos added.

Micrometeoroids, naturally occurring pieces of rock or metal that can be as small as a grain of sand, pose a significant risk to human spaceflight. They hurtle around the Earth at about 17,000 mph (27,400 km/h) – much faster than the speed of a bullet.

Roscosmos said the diameter of the micrometeoroid that struck the docked Soyuz was small, creating a hole in the capsule that was only 1 mm in diameter. It caused significant damage, with NASA television images showing white snowflake-like particles streaming from the back.

Man-made “space debris” can also damage equipment. In 2021, Russia blew up one of its satellites in a missile test that created clouds of zooming debris.

Space has remained a rare area of ​​cooperation between Moscow and Washington since Russia invaded Ukraine.

The ISS was launched in phases starting in 1998 at a time of increased US-Russian cooperation nearly a decade after the end of the Cold War. The aging space station is set to be de-orbited in 2031, with a planned descent to a remote spot in the Pacific.

Meanwhile, a new space race between the US and China is heating up. In 2021, Beijing’s space program launched its first manned space station in Earth orbit. The 70-tonne Tiangong, which means “heavenly palace”, is expected to operate for at least 10 years.

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