Baikonur. An unmanned Soyuz capsule has launched to the ISS to replace a damaged space shuttle at the International Space Station. The Soyuz MS-23 lifted off from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Friday, live images from the US space agency Nasa showed. With around 430 kilograms of cargo for the crew on board, including medical devices and equipment for scientific experiments, the capsule is scheduled to dock with the ISS on Sunday at 2:01 a.m. CET.
The unusual mission became necessary because the MS-22 ferry docked at the ISS has a leak – probably caused by a micrometeorite. The liquid leaking from the cooling system made the return of two Russians and an American seem risky. The plan is now that the cosmonauts Sergei Prokopjew and Dmitri Petelin as well as Nasa astronaut Frank Rubio, who came to the ISS in September with the MS-22, are expected to return to Earth in the autumn with the MS-23 – instead of March, like was originally planned. In the meantime, the damaged MS-22 capsule could fly back from the ISS unmanned.
Piloted by cosmonaut Anna Kikina, the European robotic arm examines the Soyuz MS-22 capsule after a leak was discovered in December 2022 that canceled a spacewalk. The defective Soyuz MS-22 space capsule is to be brought back to earth unmanned from the International Space Station ISS at the end of March.
© Source: NASA TV/dpa
The German astronaut Reinhold Ewald (66) did not want to speak of a “rescue mission”. “The crew is not stranded somewhere. Even if many systems fail, the Soyuz has ways and means of steering the capsule home,” he told the German Press Agency. In a way, the problems on earth are bigger than in space. “This is a major effort for Russian space travel. The Soyuz, which is sent up unmanned, was intended for a crew. This is already a significant disruption to the order. Russia does not produce them for stock.”
Cooperation in space despite the war in Ukraine
Russia and the United States have been working closely together on the space station around 400 kilometers above the earth for more than 20 years, but the relationship got into a serious crisis exactly one year ago because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, both countries continue to cooperate in space.
Spaceman Ewald, who flew to the Russian space station “Mir” in a Soyuz capsule in early 1997 and spent three weeks doing research there, pointed out the pragmatic ongoing cooperation between Nasa and Roscosmos despite the Ukraine war: “The situation is bad enough . That is perhaps a glimmer of hope that we are getting closer again.”
He does not believe that Russia will exit the ISS program any time soon. “Moscow just recently sent up a science module. I think Russia will use its investment in the station for as long as possible.” Technically, the ISS is struggling with “foreseeable problems,” said Ewald. “Material fatigue cannot be stopped that easily.” According to the state agency TASS, the scientific and technical council of the Russian space agency Roskosmos decided a few days ago “after detailed consultations” to continue using the Russian segment of the ISS until 2028.
In addition to Prokopjew, Petelin and Rubio, Nicole Mann, Josh Cassada, Koichi Wakata and Anna Kikina – the so-called “Crew-5” – are currently on board the ISS. The “Crew 6” is also expected next week – the Americans Stephen Bowen, Warren Hoburg, the Russian Andrei Fedjajew and the Emirati Sultan al-Nijadi. A few days after their arrival in a “Crew Dragon” from Elon Musk’s private space company SpaceX, the “Crew-5” should then return to Earth.