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Russia to bring back cosmonauts from ISS after leak

This file video grab from a NASA feed obtained Dec 15, 2022 shows liquid spraying from the aft end of the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft. (HANDOUT / NASA / AFP)

MOSCOW – Russia said on Wednesday it would launch another Soyuz rocket on Feb 20 to bring home two cosmonauts and a US astronaut from the International Space Station after their original capsule sprang a coolant leak last month.

The leak stemmed from a tiny puncture in the external radiator of the Soyuz MS-22 capsule which is currently docked to the ISS and had been due to bring the three crew members back to Earth in March.

"The expedition of Sergey Prokopyev, Dmitry Petelin and Francisco Rubio to the ISS is being extended. They will return to Earth on Soyuz MS-23," Roskosmos said.

NASA said last month it was exploring whether SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft could offer an alternative ride home for some ISS crew members, in case Russia was unable to launch another Soyuz

"The launch of the Soyuz MS-23 will be on Feb 20, 2023 in an unmanned mode," Roskosmos said.

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The MS-23 launch had earlier been planned for mid-March. Soyuz MS-22 will descend to Earth without a crew, it said.

Roskosmos said damage to the radiator pipeline occurred as a result of a meteorite.

"The diameter of the hole is less than 1 millimeter," it said.

The incident has disrupted Russia's ISS activities, forcing a suspension of spacewalks by its cosmonauts as officials focus on the leaky capsule, which serves as a lifeboat for the crew.

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The leak is also a problem for NASA. The US agency said last month it was exploring whether SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft could offer an alternative ride home for some ISS crew members, in case Russia was unable to launch another Soyuz.