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New Soyuz will launch in February to replace leaking ISS spacecraft
by Doug Cunningham
Washington DC (UPI) Jan 11, 2023

The Russian Space Agency Roscosmos said Wednesday it will launch an unmanned spacecraft to the International Space Station in February to replace a damaged Soyuz spacecraft docked there.

Roscosmos said in a statement that the Soyuz MS-23 spacecraft will launch without a crew Feb. 20. The damaged Soyuz spacecraft will return to Earth uncrewed. The replacement spacecraft will then carry NASA astronaut Frank Rubio and Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin back to Earth.

"We're not calling this a rescue Soyuz," NASA ISS Program Manager Joel Montalbano said in a teleconference with reporters. "I'm calling it a replacement Soyuz. This is the next Soyuz that was scheduled to fly in March. It will just fly a little early."

Roscosmos Executive Director for Human Space Programs Sergei Krikalev said during the update Wednesday that the final decision had been made to replace the Soyuz spacecraft due to a coolant leak discovered in December coming from the aft end of the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft docked at the ISS.

The current Soyuz crew at the space station will extend their stays for an unspecified time, returning to Earth on the Soyuz MS-23, according to Roscosmos.

Krikalev said that as a result of the leak, temperatures in portions of the spacecraft would "not be healthy for the crew." He added it would also not be possible to repair the vessel in space.

Montalbano said the damage appears to be from a coolant leak caused by micrometeorite debris, dismissing speculation it was caused by a meteor shower or other space debris.

"We've done a lot of imagery assessments of the area of interest and everything does point to micrometeorite debris," Montalbano said during the live NASA teleconference Wednesday. "We have looked at meteor showers that occurred around the same time frame, but both the team in Houston as well as the team in Moscow have said that the meteor showers were not a contributor."

Krikalev said Roscosmos could see coolant from the leak going into space and at first looked into whether the leak could have been caused by a technological malfunction. But he said they determined there was no issue with manufacturing or the technology of the spacecraft.

He said Roscosmos was able to see the hole in the radiator and in a pipe caused by micrometeorite debris. Krikalev said the mission will be several months longer as a result of the leaking spacecraft and the replacement being sent to the ISS.

Montalbano said the ISS crew is prepared to stay and keep doing research until the new Soyuz spacecraft can dock at the ISS.

"The awesome thing about our crews is they're willing to help wherever we ask," Montalbano said. "They're prepared to stay until the September launch date if that's the case. If they go earlier and that launch date moves up earlier, then they're prepared to come home earlier."

"I may have to fly some more ice cream to reward them," he added.

Five things to know about the International Space Station
Paris (AFP) Jan 11, 2023 - Russia is scrambling to bring home three astronauts -- two Russians and one American -- who are stuck aboard the International Space Station after a meteorite damaged the spacecraft that was due to return them to Earth.

Here are some key facts about the orbiting laboratory set up to advance space exploration - and prepare to send humans to Mars - where Russians and Americans have worked together for a quarter of a century.

- Size of a football field -

The ISS is the largest man-made structure ever put into orbit.

Launched in 1998 by the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan, and members of the European Space Agency (ESA) it is the size of a football field and weighs about the same as a jam-packed Boeing 747.

Built at a total cost of about 100 billion dollars, mostly paid for by the US, it orbits the Earth every 90 minutes at an average altitude of 400 kilometres (250 miles).

It has been permanently occupied since November 2000 by Russian and American-led crews that usually stay for around six months to carry out experiments in microgravity (weightlessness) which have practical applications on Earth and help prepare for future Mars missions.

NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei holds the record for the longest straight stay on board the ISS, of 355 days.

- Model of US-Russia cooperation -

Five space agencies representing 15 countries operate the ISS.

NASA and the space agencies of Europe (ESA), Canada (CSA) and Japan (JAXA) run the US Orbital Segment, which is responsible for providing solar power. The Russian Orbital Segment, operated by Russian space agency Roscosmos, is responsible for propulsion and maintaining orbit.

The US and Russia each supply half of the food needed on the ISS, which is brought by uncrewed Russian and American supply ships, including craft from Twitter owner Elon Musk's SpaceX.

The station has a full crew of seven but the numbers aboard can reach up to 13 during crew rotations.

Eight spaceships can be connected at any one time to the ISS, which can be reached from Earth in about four hours.

The Soyuz has three places and the SpaceX's Dragon 2 has four.

There are always two spacecraft docked at the ISS to evacuate in the event of an emergency, but one of these suffered the meteorite hit.

- 18-hour days -

Astronauts on the ISS are kept busy.

The day starts at 6 a.m. and lights go out at 10:30 p.m, after eight to ten hours of scientific experiments, two hours of physical activity to avoid muscle loss in microgravity and three hours for housework, repairs and leisure time.

Some 200 experiments are ongoing at any one time.

The key, says French astronaut Thomas Pesquet, is to keep busy, because "if you have nothing to do, it is a bit like a prison with a great view, and some fun stuff like floating."

- Fiery waste removal -

Nobody has a room of their own on the ISS much less a bed. Astronauts slip into sleeping bags stowed vertically.

There is very little water on the ISS: some of it is brought from Earth, with the rest extracted from the air and urine. Waste water is purified and recycled for use in meals.

The ISS has neither a shower nor a dishwasher: astronauts use wipes and air flushes remove solid waste, which is compacted in canisters and loaded onto the supply vessels, burning up on re-entering the Earth's atmosphere.

- Uncertain future -

The ISS was never built to last forever.

Both NASA and the ESA want to continue operations until at least 2030. But the Russians said in July 2022 -- in the midst of the war in Ukraine -- that they wanted to withdraw after 2024 in order to set up their own station, without making it official.

After 2030, the ISS could be retired and plunged into an uninhabited area of the Pacific Ocean, according to NASA, which has announced plans to transition to commercial space stations.

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Russia to send capsule to rescue crew from ISS
Moscow (AFP) Jan 11, 2023
Russia said Wednesday it would send a rescue capsule on February 20 for three crew of the International Space Station, after a meteorite damaged the spacecraft that was due to return them to Earth. "The Soyuz MS-23 launch is on February 20, 2023 in an unmanned mode," Russia's space agency Roscosmos said. The MS-22 spacecraft that was originally set to bring Russian cosmonauts Sergei Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio back to Earth had been damaged by a small meteorite s ... read more

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