Russia to send rescue mission to space station
by AFP Staff Writers
Moscow (AFP) Jan 11, 2023
Russia said Wednesday that it will send an empty spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) next month to bring home three astronauts whose planned return vehicle was damaged by a strike from a tiny meteoroid.
The Russian space agency, Roscosmos, made the announcement after examining the flight worthiness of the Soyuz MS-22 crew capsule docked with the ISS that sprang a radiator coolant leak in December.
Roscosmos and NASA officials said at a joint press briefing that an uncrewed Soyuz spacecraft, MS-23, would be sent to the ISS on February 20 to bring Russian cosmonauts Dmitry Petelin and Sergei Prokopyev and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio back to Earth.
"We're not calling it a rescue Soyuz," said Joel Montalbano, ISS program manager at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "I'm calling it a replacement Soyuz.
"Right now the crew is safe onboard the space station."
MS-22 flew Petelin, Prokopyev and Rubio to the ISS in September after taking off from the Russian-operated Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
They were scheduled to return home in the same spacecraft in March, but their stay on the ISS will now be extended by several extra months.
"I may have to find some more ice cream to reward them," Montalbano joked.
MS-22 began leaking coolant on December 14 -- shortly before Russian cosmonauts were to begin a spacewalk -- after being hit by what US and Russian space officials believe was a tiny space rock.
Montalbano said "everything does point to a micrometeoroid" and not space debris, or a technical problem.
The executive director of Human Space Flight Programs at Roscosmos, Sergei Krikalev, said the "current theory is that this damage was caused by a small particle about one millimeter in diameter."
MS-23 had been scheduled to fly Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub and NASA's Loral O'Hara to the ISS on March 16.
- SpaceX Crew Dragon -
The decision was made to use MS-23 to fly the current crew home, Krikalev said, because of concerns over potential high temperatures in the damaged MS-22 during reentry to Earth's atmosphere.
He said it could still potentially be used "in case of emergency."
Another emergency scenario involves using the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule that is currently docked with the ISS after flying four astronauts to the space station in October for a six-month mission.
Montalbano said discussions have been underway with SpaceX about using the Crew Dragon capsule to fly home other astronauts aboard the ISS.
"We could safely secure the crew members in the area that the cargo normally returns on the Dragon," Montalbano said.
"All that is only for an emergency, only if we have to evacuate ISS," the NASA official stressed. "That's not the nominal plan or anything like that."
Krikalev said an uncrewed MS-22 would return to Earth, probably in March, following the arrival of the replacement vehicle.
It would bring back equipment and experiments that are not "temperature sensitive," he said.
When the original MS-23 crew will get to the ISS is still being worked out, Montalbano added.
Space has remained a rare venue of cooperation between Moscow and Washington since the start of the Russian offensive in Ukraine and ensuing Western sanctions on Russia.
The ISS was launched in 1998 at a time of increased US-Russia cooperation following the Cold War "Space Race."
Russia has been using the ageing but reliable Soyuz capsules to ferry astronauts into space since the 1960s.
Five things to know about the International Space Station
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.
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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