Russia’s Soyuz MS-24 crew capsule could launch to the International Space Station sooner than planned to replace a potentially unsafe spacecraft slated to return three astronauts back to Earth, Russian media reported. Upsettingly, the potentially unsafe spacecraft is MS-23, a replacement craft sent to the ISS to replace the damaged MS-22.
The Soyuz MS-24 was scheduled for launch on September 15, but may now launch on June 7 instead, three anonymous industry sources told state-run Russian newspaper Izvestia. The potential decision to launch the spacecraft three months earlier was prompted by concerns of manufacturing defects affecting multiple Russian vehicles—a common defect that has already, maybe, caused two spacecraft to leak coolant while docked to the ISS.
In December 2022, Russia’s Soyuz MS-22 sprung a leak, causing the coolant from its radiator to gush out into space. Then in February of this year, Russia’s Progress 82 freighter, also docked to the ISS, began leaking out its coolant, in a remarkably—and eerily—similar incident to the first. Despite the leaks taking place back-to-back, Russia denied any connection between the two incidents and instead blamed it on the spacecraft getting hit by micrometeorites, while also ruling out the potential for a common defect.
In the latest twist, some Russian experts are not ruling out the possibility that the coolant leaks were caused by a manufacturing defect and not micrometeorites, the sources told Izvestia. With that grim possibility in mind, Russia’s space agency and Energia Space Rocket Corporation are now contemplating a plan in which the Soyuz MS-24 will replace the MS-23 spacecraft currently docked to the ISS, since it may also have the same defect, Izvestia reports. Each afflicted ship spent about three months in orbit before it sprung a leak, which means the MS-23 has until end of May before it potentially displays signs of a possible defect, namely a leaky radiator.
The uncrewed Soyuz MS-23 was launched on February 23 to replace the damaged Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft and serve as a lifeboat for Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin, and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio. The trio arrived to the ISS onboard MS-22 in September 2022. They were originally scheduled to return to Earth in the spring of this year, but the December coolant leak incident left them without a ride back. That meant that the three astronauts were essentially stranded should there be an emergency on board the ISS requiring them to evacuate.
A SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule had been modified to accommodate an extra passenger, namely Rubio, but the Crew-5 spacecraft is slated to depart the ISS tomorrow, sans Rubio. The trio, it now seems, are once again facing a precarious situation given the apparent potential for something to go wrong with MS-23, currently parked outside. The official launch date for MS-24 still remains in September, but officials are considering an expedited launch in June, Izvestia reported.
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