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Soyuz leaks could keep astronaut, cosmonauts on space station for a year

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The launch of a replacement spacecraft to retrieve a NASA astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts from the Worldwide House Station after their ship suffered a large coolant leak late last year “is beneath evaluate,” NASA mentioned in a statement Wednesday night as engineers work to determine the reason for a leak affecting a second Russian spacecraft.

Earlier this week, after discovering the second leak on a Russian cargo ship that doesn’t fly individuals, Russian house company officers mentioned they had been pushing the launch of the alternative craft to March to present them extra time to analyze the issue.

However in its assertion Wednesday, NASA didn’t put a date on when the alternative ship could be despatched to the house station and mentioned that it was working with engineers from Roscosmos, the Russian house company, “to analyze the reason for coolant loss from each” ships. It added that “the crew is constant with regular house station operations and scientific analysis.”

The crew — NASA astronaut Frank Rubio and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin — launched to the Worldwide House Station in September in what was speculated to be a six-month keep, with a return journey set for March.

Now it’s unclear when the crew will return.

The primary setback got here in December, when the crew’s Russian-made Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft sprang a leak, spewing coolant used to maintain the spacecraft at a cushty temperature. Final month, Roscosmos mentioned the leak was probably brought on by a micrometeoroid strike — not a producing defect, a conclusion that NASA mentioned it supported. Given the harm, Roscosmos determined it might be unsafe for the astronauts to fly dwelling in that ship, as initially deliberate. As a substitute, it mentioned it might ship up a recent spacecraft as a alternative.

That launch was speculated to occur Feb. 19. However then on Saturday, Russian engineers on the mission management heart outdoors of Moscow found that one other spacecraft — this one a cargo ship referred to as Progress 82 — additionally had a coolant leak.

Now that two spacecraft have had comparable issues inside months of one another, NASA officers and their Russian counterparts are confronting new questions on what induced the leaks, if they’re associated and whether or not the alternative ship may additionally have an analogous drawback.

The Progress cargo spacecraft has been connected to the house station since October. For the reason that leak was found, NASA mentioned it “has been aiding Roscosmos in gathering imagery” utilizing the house station’s robotic arm.

Usually, crews rotate out after six-month stays on the house station, and Rubio, Prokopyev and Petelin had been to return when a alternative crew flying the subsequent spacecraft, Soyuz MS-23, would relieve them. Since Roscosmos is now sending that spacecraft as a rescue automobile, the alternative crew gained’t fly till September. And so Rubio, Prokopyev and Petelin could be prolonged till the brand new crew arrives.

Talking to reporters final month, Joel Montalbano, NASA’s house station program supervisor, mentioned that the crew is “ready to remain till the September launch date, if that’s the case. If that launch day strikes up earlier, then they’re ready to return dwelling earlier.”

Officers have mentioned that the launch of the subsequent crew could be decided as soon as the alternative craft is launched and connected to the station. NASA and Roscosmos are desirous to get the alternative ship to the station as a result of it might be used as an evacuation automobile within the unlikely probability of an emergency aboard the station.


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