Space station activities are moving forward amidst the Soyuz mix
WASHINGTON — It’s pretty much business as usual at the International Space Station as NASA adjusts its current activities and future plans to Russia’s decision to replace a damaged Soyuz spacecraft docked there.
NASA astronaut Nicole Mann and JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata will conduct a spacewalk Jan. 20 to install a mounting bracket for a new solar array that will be delivered to the station on a future cargo mission. The spacewalk, the first by any astronaut, is scheduled to last from six and a half to seven hours.
Spacewalks are a sign that activities on the space station are continuing largely unaffected Damage to the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft docked there on December 14th That Roscosmos and NASA have attributed a precise meteorite hit. The accident damaged the spacecraft’s radiator and caused a coolant leak.
The two agencies announced on January 11 that They concluded that the spacecraft could not safely return to Earth with its three-man crew Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petlin and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio. Instead, a new Soyuz spacecraft, Soyuz MS-23, will be sent to the station uncrewed to replace Soyuz MS-22, which will return to Earth, also uncrewed.
On January 18, astronauts transferred a custom-fitted Rubio seat liner from Soyuz MS-22 to the Crew Dragon spacecraft docked at the station. In the event of an emergency requiring crew evacuation, Rubio would return aboard Crew Dragon while Prokopyev and Petelin departed on Soyuz MS-22.
“We think that will take some of the heat load off the Soyuz spacecraft and will help us with the overall situation,” Dina Kontella, operations integration manager for the International Space Station Program at NASA, said during a Jan. 17 briefing about the upcoming spacewalk. .
Transferring Rubio’s seat to Crew Dragon is only a temporary measure. After the Soyuz MS-23 arrives at the station, its seat liner, along with the Prokopyev and Petelin seats, will be transferred to the Soyuz MS-23. Soyuz MS-23 is scheduled to launch on February 20, docking with the station two days later.
The launch of Soyuz MS-23 will slightly delay the launch of Crew-6 Crew Dragon. In a press conference on Jan. 11, NASA said it will take up to two weeks to revise the schedule for both that mission and other flights to the station in the near future. Contella said at the spacewalk briefing that Crew-6 was scheduled to launch in mid-to-late February, with Crew-5 Crew Dragon returning a few days later.
The Crew-6 mission includes astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi of the United Arab Emirates. The Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center in the United Arab Emirates announced on January 19 that the Crew-6 mission was scheduled to launch no later than February 26, about a week later than previously planned.
Kontella said Crew-6 will be followed by the Dragon cargo mission, CRS-27, in March. This will in turn be followed by a Cygnus cargo spacecraft, NG-19, though it did not say when it would launch. NG-19 will be the last Cygnus spacecraft to be launched on the current version of the Antares rocket as Northrop Grumman is working with Firefly Aerospace on a new first stage of the vehicle.
The decision to replace Soyuz MS-22 with Soyuz MS-23 means that Prokopyev, Petelin and Rubio will extend their stay on the International Space Station. The three were originally scheduled to return to Earth in March, but will stay for up to six more months. Kontella said they will likely return in late September, about a year after they arrived. “We are looking at the exact timing of that, but at this point, that would be when the car is planned to go home.”
The Soyuz coolant leak occurred while Prokopyev and Petlin were preparing for the spacewalk, which was canceled as a result and has not yet been rescheduled. “Our Russian colleagues are working on their future plans for spacewalks at this point,” she said.