On Dec. 15, 2022, NASA and Roscosmos mission controllers noticed a liquid leak from the external cooling circuit of the Soyuz MS-22 docked to the Rassvet module on the International Space Station.
The spacecraft was inspected from the outside using the European Robotic Arm and, subsequently, it was established that the damage was caused by the impact with a micrometeorite. This inconvenience caused the internal temperature of the Soyuz to rise, making it unsafe for the crew’s return to Earth scheduled for March 2023.
The Soyuz MS-22 is not only the re-entry vehicle for three astronauts but also their lifeboat in case of an unscheduled evacuation of the ISS.
In the following days, the two Space Agencies developed a plan to replace the damaged capsule to guarantee the crew a safe return to Earth.
Roscosmos will launch the Soyuz MS-23 around Feb. 20, 2023, without a crew. It will be configured as a progress cargo vehicle capable of performing automated docking with the Station. The arrival is scheduled for February 22.
After that, the Soyuz MS-23 will be configured as a crew-carrying spacecraft with custom seats taken from the Soyuz MS-22.
The unmanned landing of the Soyuz MS-22 is scheduled for March 2023 in Kazakhstan. It will be used as a cargo ship to bring some experiments back to Earth.
The mission of Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin and NASA astronaut Francisco Rubio will be extended by several months and is likely to end with the standard crew rotation in September 2023.
A temporary plan for emergency evacuations
Roscosmos and the space agencies involved in the ISS project have developed a second plan to be used in the event of an emergency evacuation before the arrival of the Soyuz MS-23.
Between Jan. 17 and Jan. 18 Astronaut Francisco Rubio temporarily moved his seat from the Soyuz MS-22 to the Crew Dragon Endurance.
If an evacuation is necessary, Francisco Rubio will return to Earth onboard the Crew Dragon with the Crew-5 astronauts, and cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin will return onboard the Soyuz MS-22.
The descent of two cosmonauts instead of three will be safer, as it will help reduce the temperature and humidity inside the spacecraft.
After Soyuz MS-23 arrives at the ISS, the seats of all three crew members will be transferred to it and the classic emergency evacuation plan will be adopted again.
This incident has not only caused an emergency but will cause the postponement of other missions to the ISS including the original Soyuz MS-23 mission which will be reassigned to Soyuz MS-24, the second Axiom Space private mission (to ensure the safety of tourists and non-professional astronauts) and the manned test flight of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft.
The crew on the International Space Station
On the space station, there are seven astronauts/cosmonauts part of two missions:
- NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata and Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna KIkina are part of the SpaceX Crew-5 mission.
- Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin and NASA astronaut Francisco Rubio are part of the Soyuz MS-22 mission.
The presence of Anna Kikina on the Crew Dragon and Francisco Rubio on the Soyuz is part of the Soyuz-Dragon exchange system aimed at maintaining at least one NASA Astronaut and one Roscosmos Cosmonaut on each of the crew rotation missions.
This ensures both countries have a presence on the International Space Station in case the Soyuz (for Russia) or a commercial vehicle (for the US) is grounded or occupied due to emergencies.