The rescue ship for the trapped astronauts arrives at the ISS, who will not return to Earth until September

Launch of the Soyuz MS-23 spacecraft towards the International Space Station. / NASA

Science | Space

Although the crew was scheduled to return at the end of March, a leak in a second Russian ship has led to a change of plans

Elena Martin Lopez

After weeks of intense doubts about how astronauts Sergey Prokopyev, Dmitry Petelin and Frank Rubio would be rescued, this Saturday the
International Space Station (ISS) the ship that will bring them back to Earth. The Soyuz-23 will replace the Soyuz MS-22, in which the cosmonauts were originally supposed to return to our planet, after being rendered unusable by the impact of a meteoroid against the spacecraft's cooling system, in December 2022. Of course, As the Russian space agency Roscosmos announced last week, the return trip will be in September 2023, and not at the end of March, as planned.

In total, these three astronauts will live on board the ISS for one year. The change of plans is due to the breakdown suffered by a second Russian ship anchored to the ISS (the
Progress MS-21) on February 14. The incident was reportedly caused by an impact similar to the one suffered by the Soyuz MS-22 and also caused a refrigerant leak from its thermal control systems.

Although the missions to the ISS usually last only six months, the space agencies have announced that Prokopyev, Petelin and Rubio are not in danger or their health will be compromised by it. In fact, it is not the first time it has happened. In 2021, the mission of Russian cosmonaut Piotr Doubrov and American astronaut Mark Vande Hei was also extended for another six months, Roscosmos recalled. During the extra time on the ISS, the main task of the trapped astronauts will be to understand the origin of these impacts and breakdowns and to carry out experiments to counter this type of threat.

The Soyuz MS-23 launched at dawn on February 24 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with no crew and 430 kilograms of supplies. Shortly after, she moored in the ISS module Poisk. According to the current schedule, the damaged Soyuz-22 will return to Earth at the end of March, uncrewed, for a parachute-assisted landing in Kazakhstan. Post-flight analysis will be performed by Roscosmos, as announced by NASA.

Another release postponed

Until now, Prokopyev, Petelin and Rubio had no return vehicle. Soyuz-22 was held up as 'plan B' for getting these three astronauts off the ISS in an emergency, but it was a risky alternative. The only other crew-carrying vehicle on the ISS, SpaceX's Crew Dragon, has only four seats, reserved for Crew-5 astronauts, who will return to Earth shortly after the crew of the ISS. Crew-6 hand over to them.

The launch of the Crew-6 mission to the ISS has been suspended this Monday by NASA and SpaceX. Two minutes and 12 seconds before liftoff, the mission teams decided to call off to investigate a technical issue with ground systems that was preventing the data from confirming a full charge of the engines ignition source. "Human spaceflight is an inherently risky endeavor and, as always, we will fly when we are ready," said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

The next launch opportunity was Tuesday, February 28, but will not be attempted on this date due to unfavorable weather forecast conditions. If all goes well, the next attempt will be on Thursday, March 2.