A Soyuz space capsule that suffered a major coolant leak in December left the International Space Station without a crew early Tuesday (March 28) to return to Earth for engineers to study.
A leaky Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft blasted off from its docking port on the International Space Station’s Russian-made Rassvet module without any astronauts on board — a rarity for Russia’s space agency Roscosmos. Space Program – 5:57 AM EST (0957 GMT). The Soyuz will touch down on the steppes of Kazakhstan at 7:45 a.m. EDT (1145 GMT) about 91 miles southeast of Dzhezkazgan, but NASA did not broadcast the landing live. Roscosmos It was broadcasted live on YouTube (Opens in a new tab).
“The process of de-orbiting and descending to Earth was going smoothly,” Roscosmos officials said. Advertise on Telegram (Opens in a new tab) after landing. The images showed the spacecraft descending under its parachute and resting on its side after landing
Roscosmos launched the MS-22 Soyuz spacecraft in September 2022 to carry Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petlin and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio to the International Space Station on a six-month mission. But in December, just mid-flight, the Soyuz capsule developed an uncontrollable leak on December 14 that vented precious space coolant. Roscosmos engineers blamed the leak on a micrometeor impact, even as they studied a similar leak in early February on another unmanned Progress cargo ship.
Related: Russia publishes pictures of the damage to the Soyuz spacecraft
NASA spokesman Rob Navias said that the Soyuz MS22 capsule was expected to leave orbit only 55 minutes after it was detached, much sooner than two and a half hours, since it is unmanned. He added that the spacecraft also gave off a longer-than-usual burn as it left the International Space Station.
Without a coolant, engineers were concerned that temperatures inside the Soyuz MS-22 capsule would reach a sweltering 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) during its return to Earth, too high for the human crew to make the trip comfortably, NASA officials said. A subsequent temperature check by astronauts wearing spacesuits inside the stricken Soyuz found that temperatures would indeed have risen due to the lack of coolant, Navias said, but “not to unsafe levels.”
However, the leak left Rubio and his Russian companions without a ride home or a lifeboat at the station for emergencies. That ended on February 23, when Roscosmos released an empty Soyuz MS-23 capsule to the station for the three cosmonauts. They will now return to Earth later this year, possibly in late September after spending an entire year in space.
Meanwhile, Soyuz MS-22 will return to Earth packed with scientific experiments that can withstand high internal temperatures, Roscosmos said. via Telegram post (Opens in a new tab). The agency said it was also carrying old navigation units, Russian space suit sleeves from Orlan, television cameras and other equipment.
“About 218 kilograms of cargo, including the results of scientific experiments and ISS equipment for analysis or reuse, is expected to be returned to Earth on the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft,” Roscosmos officials said. According to a news report, Tass (Opens in a new tab).
Roscosmos officials said the recovery team will recover the Soyuz capsule after landing so it can be studied to better understand how the coolant leak occurred, as well as what it’s like to land without coolant to help with future missions.
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