Russia postpones launch of replacement for damaged Soyuz crew ship

The launch of a Russian Soyuz crew capsule to replace a damaged ferry ship docked at the International Space Station is delayed after a second incident that resulted in similar damage to a Progress freightera senior official said Monday.

In both cases, the spacecraft suffered total coolant loss, increasing the likelihood of high internal temperatures that could damage flight computers or other sensitive systems once undocked. The Soyuz was damaged by a suspected micrometeoroid impact. The cause of the Progress damage is not yet known.

The Soyuz MS-22 crew ferry ship (foreground) is docked at the Russian Rassvet module.  The cooling system was damaged in December by a suspected micrometeoroid impact.  The launch of a replacement Soyuz has been delayed until March while engineers assess a coolant problem with a nearby Progress freighter.  / Credit: NASA

The Soyuz MS-22 crew ferry ship (foreground) is docked at the Russian Rassvet module. The cooling system was damaged in December by a suspected micrometeoroid impact. The launch of a replacement Soyuz has been delayed until March while engineers assess a coolant problem with a nearby Progress freighter. / Credit: NASA

The chance that separate impact events two months apart could damage the same system on two different spacecraft is unlikely, but it seems just as unlikely that two different problems, one impact-related and the other not, could affect the same systems.

Anyway, Yuri Borisov, head of Russia’s federal space agency Roscosmos, said Monday that the launch of the replacement Soyuz, which was scheduled for Feb. 19, was postponed to March pending additional analysis.

NASA and SpaceX plan to launch a Crew Dragon capsule on February 26 with two astronauts, a Russian cosmonaut and an astronaut from the United Arab Emirates on board. They will replace four other Crew Dragon astronauts who plan to return to Earth on March 4. Those flights remain on schedule .

The crew of Soyuz MS-22 – Sergey Prokopyev, Dmitri Petelin and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio – launched to the space station last September. They planned to return to Earth next month to complete their own six-month stay in space.

Roscosmos on Monday released images of the damaged Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft showing the apparent micrometeoroid impact site and surrounding discoloration from leaking coolant.  / Credit: Roscosmos

Roscosmos on Monday released images of the damaged Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft showing the apparent micrometeoroid impact site and surrounding discoloration from leaking coolant. / Credit: Roscosmos

But on Dec. 14, a suspected micrometeoroid pierced the Soyuz’s hull, apparently rupturing a coolant pipe. Roscosmos released photos Monday of the impact site, showing what appears to be a small puncture surrounded by discoloration caused by the escaping coolant.

Russian engineers concluded that the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft could not safely transport the three crew members home and chose to launch the next Soyuz in the series, MS-23, with no crew on board. Prokopyev and his crew will return to Earth in September aboard the new spacecraft.

But last Saturday, the Progress freighter suddenly lost its coolant in an apparently unrelated incident. Unlike the damaged Soyuz, the cause of the Progress problem occurred on the side of the vehicle not visible to space station cameras. Engineers do not yet know whether an impact has occurred or whether a component has failed.

“A committee is working on the Progress case,” Borisov said in translated comments on Telegram. “Until the cause of the emergency is determined, it has been decided to postpone the launch of the Soyuz MS-23 spacecraft in uncrewed mode until March 2023.

“We emphasize that nothing threatens the life and health of the crew,” the post concluded.

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