NASA and Roscosmos Implement More Soyuz MS-22 Contingency Plans

NASA and Roscosmos Implement More Soyuz MS-22 Contingency Plans

NASA and Roscosmos have agreed to temporarily move the custom-made seat liner for NASA astronaut Frank Rubio from Soyuz MS-22 to Crew Dragon Endurance. Soyuz MS-22’s thermal control system is compromised and cannot safely support the three crew members, including Rubio, it delivered to ISS, but might be able to handle two. In the unlikely event an emergency requires evacuating ISS between now and when a replacement Soyuz arrives, Rubio would come home with four other crew members in Endurance, while his two Russian colleagues use Soyuz MS-22.

Crew Dragon was designed to carry as many as seven people, but NASA requires only four astronauts to be ferried to and from ISS at a time. Endurance, one of SpaceX’s four operational Crew Dragon spacecraft, is outfitted with four seats. The remaining volume is available for cargo.

Crew-5 (L-R): Anna Kikina (Roscosmos), Josh Cassada (NASA), Nicole Mann (NASA) and Koichi Wakata (JAXA).

Endurance delivered Crew-5 to ISS in October: NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina.

Crews typically return to Earth on the same spacecraft they took to space, but NASA and Roscosmos have had to develop a contingency plan because Soyuz MS-22 experienced a coolant leak last month. They think a hole in the radiator and coolant pipe was caused a micrometeoroid impact. All the coolant was lost meaning thermal conditions inside the spacecraft cannot be maintained after it separates from the ISS.

Roscosmos concluded that Soyuz MS-22 is not safe enough to bring the three-person crew back to Earth under normal circumstances and will launch an empty replacement spacecraft, Soyuz MS-23, on February 20. Soyuz can rendezvous and dock with ISS autonomously. Docking is scheduled for February 22.

Soyuz not only is a ferry beween Earth and space, but a lifeboat in case of a life-threatening emergency on the ISS, such as a fire or decompression.

Soyuz MS-22 crew (L-R): Frank Rubio (NASA), Sergei Prokopyev (Roscosmos), Dmitri Petelin (Roscosmos).

As unlikely as that may be they need a plan for evacuating the three Soyuz MS-22 crew members — Rubio and cosmonauts Sergei Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin — between now and when Soyuz MS-23 arrives.

The concern is that Soyuz MS-22’s damaged thermal system cannot handle the heat and humidity associated with three humans aboard. Not only would it be uncomfortable for them, but it could damage critical systems like computers.

Roscosmos and NASA have concluded that while not ideal, in an emergency it might be able to handle two people. Under the new plan, Prokopyev and Petelin would evacuate in Soyuz MS-22 and Rubio would join Crew-5 in Endurance.

Soyuz has three seats, each with a seat liner customized for whoever sits there.

On Thursday, NASA announced the ISS Mission Management Team, which includes representatives of all the ISS partners (U.S., Russia, Japan, Canada and Europe), agreed to move Rubio’s seat liner from Soyuz MS-22 to Endurance. The work will take place from January 17-18. NASA has not yet described how the seat liner will be secured to Endurance to ensure Rubio’s safety.

It is a temporary move only. Rubio’s seat liner will be installed in Soyuz MS-23 once it arrives along with those for Prokopyev and Petelin. Unless there’s a need to evacuate, Soyuz MS-22 will come back to Earth empty and Rubio, Prokopyev and Petelin will return on Soyuz MS-23 later this year.

Soyuz MS-22 (foreground) docked to the International Space Station, October 8, 2022. In the background (to the right) is the Prichal docking node attached to the Nauka science module with its European Robotic Arm. Photo credit: NASA

Soyuz MS-23 is already at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It was getting ready to launch their replacements — Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub from Roscosmos and Loral O’Hara from NASA — on March 16. Roscosmos moved up the launch date as much as possible to February 20 and will launch it with no one aboard. The crew will have to wait for Soyuz MS-24.

ISS has been permanently occupied by international crews rotating on roughly 4-6 month schedules for more than 22 years. Crews are selected well in advance of launch to undergo training and are assigned to “expeditions” on the ISS. Expedition 68 is currently underway.

The head of Roscosmos’s human spaceflight program, Sergei Kirkalev, emphasized earlier this week that no expeditions will be canceled. Instead, each will slip to the right until they can get back on the original schedule. Except for the Soyuz MS-23 launch date, the timing of all crew and cargo flights to ISS are currently under review.

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