Russia to send rescue craft to bring home astronauts trapped in space

Three astronauts marooned on International Space Station after Soyuz ship was severely damaged

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Russia will send a rescue craft to the International Space Station next month to bring a group of astronauts back to Earth after their Soyuz ship sustained catastrophic damage.

Three astronauts — two Russians and one American — arrived at the International Space Station in September on a spacecraft that was meant to take them home in March.

However, a coolant leak in December left the spacecraft so badly damaged that it will need to be brought back to Earth without a crew in autonomous mode.

Russia’s space agency Roscosmos will send another Soyuz on February 20 to bring back Russian cosmonauts Dmitry Petelin and Sergey Prokopyev as well as Nasa astronaut Frank Rubio.

The spacecraft will return with the crew after “several months”.

A stream of particles, thought to be liquid and possibly coolant, sprays out of the Soyuz spacecraft on the International Space Station. Nasa TV / Reuters

“Experts concluded Soyuz MS-22 should descend to Earth without a crew,” said Roscosmos.

“Launch of Soyuz MS-23 on February 20, 2023, in unmanned mode.”

The space agency said that the damage had been caused by a meteoroid, which left a tiny hole in the spaceship.

“It has been experimentally proven that the damage to the radiator pipeline occurred as a result of a meteoroid impact. The hole diameter is less than 1mm,” said Roscosmos.

Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub as well as Nasa astronaut Loral O'Hara were meant to use the Soyuz MS-23 for their ISS mission, but they are no longer going.

The astronauts cannot return on the damaged ship because the coolant leak would cause unstable temperatures that could affect the crew's health.

Tiny meteoroid likely hit spacecraft

Nasa and Roscosmos held a media briefing on Wednesday, in which the US space agency agreed that a micro meteoroid had struck the craft.

Last year, the ISS dodged debris left behind by an anti-satellite test carried out by Russia in 2021, which created a sea of orbital junk.

“Everything points them to micrometre-like debris,” said Joel Montalbano, space station programme manager at Nasa.

“We are in the process of getting some additional imagery. But, so far, we are in concurrence with Roscosmos.”

Sergei Krikalev, human space flight programme executive director at Roscosmos, said that they used the Canadian robotic arm on the space station to take images and determine what had caused the leak.

“The best way is to just replace the vehicle,” he said.

Updated: January 11, 2023, 3:04 PM