A few hours ago, the Soyuz MS-23 spacecraft blasted off atop a Soyuz-2.1a rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. After about nine minutes it successfully separated from the rocket’s last stage and was placed on its route, which requires about two days of journey. It replaces the damaged Soyuz MS-22 as a vehicle for the return of its three crew members: Dmitri Petelin, Frank Rubio, and Sergey Prokopyev. This is the solution chosen by the Russian Roscosmos space agency after having established the impossibility of using the Soyuz MS-22 for the return journey with a crew on board in safety conditions.
The problem arose on December 15, 2022, with a loss of pressure in the cooling system of the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft with an evident loss of liquid, which was dispersed in space. The damage was immediately recognized as critical because the system kept the temperature at bearable levels for the systems on board and for the crew.
Doubts about the possibility of using the Soyuz MS-22 to return to Earth the crew members it transported to the International Space Station have grown over time. After less than two weeks, the investigation confirmed that it wasn’t possible to use it in conditions of safety for the crew, so various contingency solutions were considered.
Using the Crew Dragon Endurance docked with the Station to transport Dmitri Petelin, Frank Rubio, and Sergey Prokopyev was problematic because the three crew members used Russian spacesuits that are incompatible with SpaceX’s spacecraft systems.
The damage was attributed to a micrometeorite or space debris but a few days ago a similar problem also affected the Russian space freighter Progress MS-21. The coincidence seems really strange and problems were speculated in the production of the cooling systems of both spacecraft.
The Soyuz MS-23 spacecraft is scheduled to reach the International Space Station right after 1 am UTC on Sunday. The Soyuz has an automated docking system, so it will reach the Poisk module on its own.