On December 14, the Roscosmos' Soyuz sprung a leak in its coolant system. The event caused the cancellation of a spacewalk and left both the Russian space agency and NASA with a problem. That spacecraft was going to be used to bring cosmonauts Sergey Prokopeyev and Dmitri Petelin, and astronaut Frank Rubio, back to Earth in April. What now?
In a press conference, NASA’s Joel Montalbano, the manager of the International Space Station (ISS) Program, together with Sergei Krikalev, executive director of the Human Space Flight Programs at Roscosmos looked at options.
Several types of analysis are being conducted on the vehicle. The hole was found earlier this week, and investigations are trying to establish if it was caused by a micrometeoroid hitting the spacecraft. Alternatively, it could have been caused by space junk, or just a hardware failure. Crucial data for the viability of the Soyuz MS-22 will be the thermal analysis, which will assess how hot it will get inside the cabin.
If it could get dangerous, then this Soyuz will be sent back to Earth empty and another one will be sent in its place. The current plan was for a Soyuz launch in mid-March, but this would have to be pushed forward a few weeks and be launched uncrewed to replace MS-22.
Russia has previously announced that it will cease involvement with the ISS after 2024 – this decision followed the international sanctions imposed on Russia due to the country’s invasion of Ukraine last February.