WASHINGTON — At the International Space Station, it’s largely business as usual, as NASA adapts its current activities and future plans to Russia’s decision to replace the damaged Soyuz spacecraft docked there.
NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and JAXA astronauts Koichi Wakata will perform a spacewalk on Jan. 20 to install mounting brackets for a new solar array that will be delivered to the station on a future cargo mission. The first spacewalk by one of the astronauts is expected to last six and a half to seven hours.
The spacewalk shows that activity on the space station continues largely unaffected by the damage suffered by the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft that docked there on December 14. The accident damaged the spacecraft’s radiator and caused it to leak coolant.
The two agencies said on January 11 that three crew members – Roscosmos astronauts Sergey Prokopiev and Dmitri Peterin and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio – had failed to safely return the spacecraft to Earth. announced a conclusion. Instead, a new Soyuz spacecraft, Soyuz MS-23, will be sent unmanned to the station, and Soyuz MS-22 will also return to Earth unmanned.
On January 18, astronauts moved Rubio’s custom seat liner from the Soyuz MS-22 to the Crew Dragon spacecraft docked at the station. In the event of an emergency requiring crew evacuation, Rubio returned to Crew Dragon while Prokopiev and Peterin boarded Soyuz MS-22.
Dina Contella, operations integration manager for NASA’s ISS program, said in a briefing on the Jan. 17 spacewalk that “it removes some of the heat load on the Soyuz spacecraft and improves its overall attitude. I think,” he said. .
Moving Rubio’s seat to Crew Dragon was only a temporary measure. After the Soyuz MS-23 arrives at the station, his seat liner is transferred to the Soyuz MS-23 along with those of Prokopiev and Peterin. The Soyuz MS-23 is scheduled to launch on his February 20th and dock with the station two days later.
The launch of Soyuz MS-23 will slightly delay the launch of Crew-6 Crew Dragon. In a Jan. 11 briefing, NASA said it would take him up to two weeks to revise the schedule for both that mission and other flights to the station in the near future. Contella said in a spacewalk briefing that Crew-6 will launch her in mid-to-late February, while Crew-5 Crew Dragon will return in a few days.
The Crew-6 mission includes UAE astronaut Sultan Alneyadi. The Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center in the United Arab Emirates announced on January 19 that the Crew 6 mission is scheduled to launch by February 26. This is about a week behind previous plans.
Contella said Crew-6 will be followed in March by a cargo Dragon mission, CRS-27. It will be followed by the Cygnus cargo spacecraft NG-19, though she has not said when it will launch. NG-19 will be the last Cygnus spacecraft to be launched by the current version of the Antares rocket, as Northrop Grumman is working with Firefly Aerospace to develop the rocket’s new first stage.
The decision to replace the Soyuz MS-22 with the Soyuz MS-23 means that Prokopiev, Peterin and Rubio will extend their stays on the ISS. The three were originally scheduled to return to Earth in March, but will stay for up to six more months. Contella said he will likely return in late September, about a year after they arrived. “We’re working out the exact timing, but at this time, that’s when the vehicle is expected to return home.”
A Soyuz coolant leak occurred while Prokopyev and Petrin were preparing for a spacewalk, which was consequently aborted and has not yet been rescheduled. “Our Russian colleagues are currently working on future plans for spacewalks,” she said.