Russia launches a replacement spacecraft to return 3 astronauts from the International Space Station after a coolant leak in their spacecraft

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) – Russia has launched a “Soyuz MS-23” spacecraft, which will replace a vehicle that had a coolant leak last December, leaving two Russian cosmonauts and a NASA astronaut stranded without space. way back home.

Soyuz MS-23 took off from the Russian Baikonur Cosmodrome launch site in Kazakhstan, at dawn Friday local time.

The uncrewed spacecraft will spend about two days in orbit, maneuvering its way to the International Space Station. It is expected to dock with the Poisk module, which is located on the Russian-operated portion of the space station.

Soyuz MS-23 will be the return vehicle for Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petlin, and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, all of whom traveled to the space station aboard Soyuz MS-22 last September.

About two months into the three astronauts’ flight, Soyuz MS-22 experienced a coolant leak, leaving the cabin at temperatures considered unsafe for crew members to use on the return flight.

The Russian space agency, Roscosmos, and NASA worked quickly to develop plans to send a replacement vehicle. Roskosmos officials said they determined that the leak was caused by a small hole caused by a small meteorite hitting the rover.

However, plans to launch a rescue craft were called into question when a Russian craft, called Progress, experienced a similar coolant leak after docking with the International Space Station on February 11.

Three days later, Roskosmos announced on Telegram that the accident would delay the launch of Soyuz MS-23 until at least next March, while the agency investigates the cause of a coolant leak in the Progress vehicle.

However, Roskosmos said Tuesday, in an updated post on Telegram, that it had determined that the leak in the Progress vehicle was due to “external influences”.

“The Russians continue to take a hard look at the Soyuz and Progress leaks,” Dana Weigel, deputy space station administrator at NASA, said during a press briefing on Wednesday.

“They have formed a government committee to evaluate the strange cases,” she added, noting that the team has been analyzing possible causes since the time the capsules were launched during their journey in orbit.

Originally, Roscosmos astronauts Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chubb and NASA astronaut Laurel O’Hara were expected to blast off to the space station on March 16 aboard MS-23.

The three astronauts, Prokopyev, Petlin and Rubio, will be extended on the space station so they can return to Earth aboard Soyuz MS-23 later this year. This return may happen in September, according to a report by the Russian state news agency TASS.

If this schedule continues, the three crew members will have extended their stay from six months in space, to about one year.

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