Russia’s new Soyuz spacecraft successfully docks at space station

On Saturday night, the new Russian Soyuz spacecraft, MS-23, successfully docked with the International Space Station (ISS). The uncrewed Soyuz will serve as the ride home for cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin, as well as NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, who had been without a spacecraft since mid-December when their original ride, Soyuz MS-22, sprung a leak and lost all of its coolants.

The Soyuz MS-23 was launched on February 23 from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and the rendezvous with the ISS occurred while the two spacecraft were flying 260 miles (418 kilometers) above northern Mongolia.

Interestingly, NASA is also planning a launch of its own soon. A SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft is expected to lift off on Monday, February 27, with four people on board. This will provide additional ISS crew members, and the event will be telecasted live via NASA Television.

Initially, MS-23 was supposed to launch in the spring with people on board, but the Russian federal space agency Roscosmos elected to accelerate its launch to February 19 without people to allow for three seats for the stranded MS-22 crew.

In case of an emergency requiring ISS evacuation, Roscosmos determined that it would be feasible to put the two cosmonauts in the MS-22 craft, as two people on board heat up the spacecraft to a lesser degree than three. NASA said an extra seat for Rubio could be created on the SpaceX Crew-5 Dragon spacecraft, which already had four seats occupied by other ISS Expedition 69 crew members.

Vision of Roscosmos

However, another Russian craft, a robotic Progress 82 freighter, also sprung a coolant leak on February 11, which forced some changes in launching MS-23. Initially, Roscosmos said that it would delay the launch until March to allow for investigation time. But the investigation showed that the two coolant leaks may have been unrelated micrometeoroid strikes, which prompted Roscosmos to reschedule MS-23 once again to launch on February 23.

Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, decided to send MS-23 to replace the damaged vessel, but without the planned three crew members. With no one to replace them, Rubio, Petelin, and Prokopyev will now spend almost a year in space. The damaged MS-22 is expected to depart the space station without passengers and return to Earth in late March.

The MS-22/MS-23 crew is expected to spend a year in space, which is double their original time, to allow for yet another Soyuz with three people on board to serve as a relief crew. The crewed Soyuz, MS-24, is expected to launch in September, according to the SpaceflightNow launch calendar.

The replacement of Soyuz MS-22 is crucial for the safety of the ISS crew. The successful docking of Soyuz MS-23 ensures that the stranded crew members will have a safe ride home. Despite the challenges posed by the two coolant leaks, Roscosmos and NASA have worked together to ensure the safety of the ISS crew and maintain the operational capabilities of the station.