Russia to Launch Space Station Rescue Mission to Bring Astronauts Home

Russia on Wednesday said it would send an empty spacecraft to the International Space Station to bring three astronauts back to Earth. The spacecraft will replace a damaged Soyuz capsule that is docked to the orbital outpost.

The move will extend the stay in space of the three astronauts, Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitriy Petelin of Russia and Frank Rubio of NASA, who were to return in the Soyuz. The damaged vessel will return to Earth empty.

The Soyuz is the only spacecraft currently used by Russia to transport astronauts to and from the I.S.S. On Dec. 14, a spray of white particles started spewing out of a Soyuz that had been docked to the orbital base since September. The incident occurred just as Mr. Prokopyev and Mr. Petelin were about to begin a spacewalk. The spacewalk was canceled. The white particles were coolant from the Soyuz, and the leak continued for hours until the damaged cooling loop was empty.

A still image taken from a NASA video feed showed a spray of coolant emitting from the Soyuz spacecraft.Credit…NASA TV, via Reuters

Since then, astronauts used a camera at the end of a robotic arm on the space station to inspect the leak as engineers on the ground studied whether the Soyuz was still safe enough for passengers to fly home.

On Wednesday, Roscosmos, the state corporation that oversees Russia’s space industry, announced that the damaged Soyuz would return to Earth with no crew aboard. The empty replacement Soyuz is expected to launch on Feb. 23.

Roscosmos said the investigation concluded that the damage was caused by a meteoroid strike.

Four other astronauts are currently aboard the International Space Station. They were brought there by Crew Dragon, a capsule built by SpaceX that carries NASA crews to orbit.

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