An unmanned Russian Soyuz crew ship approached the International Space Station on Saturday to replace a damaged ferry and allow three crew members to safely travel home in September. In Florida, meanwhile, SpaceX was preparing a Crew Dragon for launch early Monday to deliver another crew of four to the outpost.
Launched Thursday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the Soyuz MS-23/69S spacecraft, carrying supplies and equipment in lieu of a crew, was scheduled to guide itself to an automated dock at Russia’s space-pointing Poisk module at 20:01, according to EUROPEAN DST.
The new Soyuz will replace the MS-22 vehicle that put Sergey Prokopyev, Dmitri Petelin and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio into orbit last September.
They had originally planned to return to Earth next month, but on December 14 their Soyuz MS-22 vehicle was struck by a micrometeoroid that ruptured a line carrying coolant to external coolers. As a result, all available coolant was thrown into space.
After analysis, Russian engineers decided that the spacecraft could not safely return all three crew members to Earth due to the possibility that critical computers and other sensitive equipment could overheat after undocking.
Instead, they moved the launch of the MS-23 vehicle upstairs to serve as a lifeboat in the event of an evacuation-class emergency and, failing that, for the eventual return of the crew to Earth. To get the normal crew rotation schedule back on track, Prokopyev and his crewmates will now spend a full year in space instead of six months.
But with the arrival of the Soyuz MS-23 ferry, they once again have a reliable spacecraft to take them home in the event of a medical emergency or other problem that might require immediate evacuation from the space station.
The space station’s other four crew members — Crew 5 commander Nicole Mann, Josh Cassada, Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata and cosmonaut Anna Kikina — were ferried to the laboratory complex last October aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. They plan to return to Earth around March 6th.
Their successors — Crew 6 commander Stephen Bowen, Woody Hoburg, cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev and UAE astronaut Sultan Alneyadi — are scheduled to lift off from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center at 1:45 a.m. Monday
Bowen and his crewmates strapped into their Crew Dragon overnight on Thursday and participated in a countdown to the dress rehearsal. A few hours later, after the crew left the pad, SpaceX engineers tested the Falcon 9’s first stage engines to verify their readiness for flight.
The crew plans to buckle up properly just after 11pm on Sunday. Assuming a timely launch early Monday, the Crew-6 ferry will reach the space station at 2:38 a.m. Tuesday and dock at the spaceside port of the forward Harmony module.
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