Crippled uncrewed Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft returns to Earth
Russia’s Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft, which was struck by a micrometeoroid late last year, autonomously landed in Kazakhstan after a 187-day stay at the International Space Station.
The spacecraft parachuted down to the Kazakh Steppe, landing at 7:46 a.m. EDT March 28, 2023, less than two hours after undocking from the space station without the crew it launched with back in September. Because of an external coolant line leak Dec. 14, 2022, which Russia says was caused by a micrometeoroid impact, that vehicle was replaced with Soyuz MS-23 in February.
Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin, and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, were supposed to return in Soyuz MS-22 after six months in space. But because of the incident late last year, the trio will remain in orbit likely until September and return in the undamaged Soyuz MS-23.
After the leak, the spacecraft was not able to keep the interior of the capsule cool enough for a safe return. Roscosmos estimated the internal temperature would probably have reached 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius). Combine that with the G-loads of reentry and any humidity inside the vehicle, and it would have been a very uncomfortable ride for a person, to say the least.
The Soyuz MS-22 coolant leak in December 2022. Credit: SciNews
Instead, Roscosmos packed the return capsule with 481 pounds (218 kilograms) of cargo. The cosmonaut-astronaut trio is expected to return Sept. 27, as of this writing. That would make their total time in space roughly 371 days — the longest single stay aboard the International Space Station to date.
Soyuz MS-23 launched in an uncrewed mode to the ISS and docked to the space-facing Posik module on Feb. 26. Prokopyev, Petelin and Rubio are expected to board that vehicle and manually relocate it to the Earth-facing Prichal module on April 6.
The relocation will allow the Poisk module to be used as an airlock without blocking emergency crew access to the Soyuz spacecraft, which doubles as a lifeboat for the trio.
Also aboard the orbiting laboratory are NASA astronauts Stephen Bowen and Warren Hoburg, United Arab Emirates astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi and Russian cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev. Those four arrived at the space station March 3 via the SpaceX Crew-6 Dragon spacecraft. Together, the seven astronauts make up the Expedition 69 crew.
Video courtesy of NASA
Video courtesy of Roscosmos
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.