Home » A Soyuz Spacecraft Will Launch To The ISS To Replace That One With A Coolant Leak, Marking A Very Specific Space-First

A Soyuz Spacecraft Will Launch To The ISS To Replace That One With A Coolant Leak, Marking A Very Specific Space-First

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You may recall about a month ago when we reported about how one of the Russian Soyuz space capsules docked to the International Space Station (ISS) had sprung a very significant leak, resulting in a fountain of coolant spraying out into space. Even if you’re not a rocket scientist, I suspect that you can identify this as “bad” and “a problem.” The coolant leak seemed to have come from the Soyuz’ external coolant manifold, and the loss of the cooling ability could create an at least uncomfortable and at worst unsafe environment for any astronauts that may return to Earth in the capsule. Since three of the astronauts and cosmonauts on the station rely on the Soyuz as their way home, an uncrewed, replacement Soyuz will be launched to the station. Interestingly, doing this launch might end up becoming a space first. I’ll explain.

First, if you forgot what the spraying coolant looks like, here’s a nice video:

So, this current Soyuz, known as Soyuz MS-22, really can’t be counted on to return cosmonauts/astronauts safely back to home. The replacement Soyuz, MS-23, was already scheduled to launch a new crew to the station in March. Instead, the capsule will launch on February 20 to replace the damaged craft. NASA doesn’t want to call MS-23 a “rescue” Soyuz, but instead prefers the term “replacement Soyuz.” Okay, fine. Whatever they call it, it still has to get there if those three crewmembers want to get home.

The part that I think makes this a space travel first is that, from what I can tell, this will be the first Soyuz spacecraft to be launched with no crew and then return with a full crew.

Un-crewed Soyuz spacecraft have launched before, usually as a way to test new revisions of the spaceship, as was the case with Soyuz T-1 which docked with the Salyut 6 space station in 1979, Soyuz TM-1 which docked with the Mir station in 1986, and most recently, Soyuz MS-14 which docked with the ISS in 2019.

All of these un-crewed launches returned to Earth without picking up any passengers. Early in the Soyuz program, there was a plan to send up Soyuz 2 with no crew, which would have docked with Soyuz 3, and then cosmonauts would have transferred from one craft to the other. The failure of Soyuz 1 leading to the death of cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov delayed these missions, and when Soyuz 2 and 3 did launch in 1968, they were unable to dock.

Soyuz4 5

Soyuz 4 and 5, launched in early 1969, eventually did achieve the first on-orbit docking of crewed vehicles and the first crew exchange in space, with one crew in one ship and three in the other, and then dividing into two crew per spacecraft.

So, I’m pretty sure this is the first time an empty Soyuz will go up, and return with three humans. It’s not exactly a moon landing, but a space first is a space first, and I’m pretty sure we’ll see one happen in less than a month. And, as a bonus, the whole ISS crew can return home safe, not just the ones lucky enough to have tickets on the SpaceX Dragon capsule also docked to the station.


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14 Responses

  1. So would this be a loaner until the other is fixed? If so, would they be tempted to drive it like they stole it, joyride around the planet, like I do with a loaner?

  2. I know exactly how those on ISS feel. A few years ago my teenaged son docked his 20 year old Dodge Intrepid in my driveway. It had a huge coolant leak and was subsequently stuck. He and his 2 sisters were therefore trapped in my house with no way to get to school.

    Unfortunately, there was no replacement vessel shipped to the house. They did figure out how to walk and use their bikes though using other modalities.

    Ok, sorry not exactly the same thing I guess.

  3. I am relieved that they’re sending a resc… {ahem} replacement ship rather than attempting an orbital repair. Working in space is exponentially more challenging than doing the same on Earth, and the ISS crew already spend a ton of their time up there just maintaining the station. And it’s a way better choice than just crossing your fingers and hoping for the best with a damaged craft when lives are at stake.

    I’m a little rusty on my understanding of the ISS. Is there a free docking bay for the replacement ship? Or will the damaged one need to be jettisoned first to clear up a “parking space”?

    Does this situation present an opportunity with regard to transporting material? By that I mean, could the unmanned Soyuz be packed with supplies, science experiments, or even personal items for the astronauts at the ISS for the trip up? Similarly, could the damaged one be loaded up with items that are no longer needed up there prior to it being sent away?

    1. There are three ports and a fourth that can be used in an emergency. Otherwise you could not get resupply ships to dock to the ISS while it was crewed.

  4. My guess is that it’ll end up as a revive-and-drive on YouTube soon.

    “Well, I went on the ol’ interwebs and snagged up this Soyuz MS-22 space capsule, sight unseen of course. They said it’s got a coolant leak, so we’re gonna see if we can fix on that and then just ease ‘er on home.

    “Good news is, I know absolutely nothing about Russian spacecraft, and this thing is jam-packed with electro-digicals that I don’t understand at all, so this should go really well. Nope, probably not.

    “I’m Derek Bieri, welcome to Vice Grip Garage.”

  5. Any word on what will happen to the faulty capsule? Will they try to fix it or just dump it into the ocean? I assume they are not keeping it as a spare room for the ISS…

    1. They will return the faulty capsule to Earth. It *should* be able to land safely, but with a crew, the cooling wouldn’t work properly so it would get hot inside. There is also a concern that the heat could overload the onboard computer, which would make landing difficult.

  6. So much cool space stuff (technical term, i know) happening now and over the next few years! As someone who was -12 years old when we first walked on the moon…I can’t wait for that, and hopefully beyond!

  7. “Even if you’re not a rocket scientist…”

    I’m a scientist (well, a geologist, anyway) who has occasionally received funds from NASA to work on rocketry, so I’ll go ahead and say that this is close enough for me to confirm that this coolant leak is “bad” and “a problem.” No need to thank me; I’m just happy to have this opportunity to share my expertise-adjacent, uh, expertise.

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