After working over the weekend to better determine the damage to its Soyuz spacecraft attached to the International Space Station, Russian specialists decided not to take any immediate action.
In a lengthy statement published Monday morning by Roscosmos (a VPN is required to access the site from Western countries), the Russian space company said it believes a small piece of debris tore off an external cooling loop that radiates heat from the Soyuz’s interior back into space. .
Working with NASA on Sunday to operate the Canadarm2 manipulator’s long arm, Russian specialists were able to get a clear look at the damaged area at the rear end of the Soyuz spacecraft. The hole is about 0.8 mm across, which, despite its small size, allowed all of the coolant in the outer ring to be dumped into space last Wednesday. Most importantly, a visual inspection detected no other noticeable damage to the Soyuz from the debris strike.
Speaking to Russian media on Monday, he said Said the general director of Roskosmos Working groups of specialists will spend about another week evaluating the problem. Yuri Borisov said that a decision on future actions will be made on December 27. At this point, two options are under consideration: transferring three crew members to Earth inside Soyuz MS-22, or autonomously flying the next Soyuz vehicle in line, Soyuz MS-23, to the station for the return trip. Soyuz could be ready to fly as early as February 19th.
The crew of NASA’s Soyuz MS-22 and cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev, Dmitry Petlin and Frank Rubio blasted off to the space station in September. They were due to return to Earth in March before the dramatic coolant leak, which has now delayed Ceren into space aboard the International Space Station as astronauts work with ground controllers to assess damage to Soyuz.
Without a functional external cooler, there are concerns about overheating of the interior of the Soyuz spacecraft. This could damage sensitive flight computers, necessitating a manual re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. Much work is likely to be done over the next week aimed at understanding how the spacecraft’s internal temperature changes once it leaves the space station.
In fact, Soyuz is a powerful spacecraft, which is designed to withstand many failures. Certainly, Russian officials will be keen to use the existing spacecraft to return home if at all possible. This is because there would be a significant financial cost if the Soyuz MS-23 spacecraft, which was scheduled to bring three new passengers to the station in March, were to be rerouted for the purposes of this return trip.
Since Rubio is one of the three crew members scheduled to return home, NASA is also examining the data closely. So far, the agency has offered limited public comment on the issue, preferring to give Russian specialists time to work on the problem and make recommendations for next steps.
Right now, the biggest danger will come if there is a health emergency with Prokopyev, Petelin, or Rubio, or if there is a problem with the station that forces an emergency evacuation. At the moment, it is not certain that Soyuz MS-22 is a capable lifeboat.
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