MOSCOW — Russia will postpone the launch of an empty space capsule to the International Space Station pending further investigation of a coolant leak on a supply ship docked to the station, the second such leak at a docked Russian craft in two months, the head of Russia’s space corporation Roscosmos said Monday.
The Soyuz capsule was scheduled to launch in an automatic mode on February. 20 It will dock with the orbiting station two days later to act as a rescue boat for crew members in an emergency. Roscosmos director Yuri Borisov stated that the launch would be delayed at best until March.
A Soyuz capsule capable of carrying an astronaut capsule was docked at the station in December. However, a coolant leak occurred.
Russians Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio were supposed to return to Earth in March in that capsule, but Russian space officials said higher temperatures from the coolant leak could make that dangerous.
On Saturday, another coolant leakage was discovered in the docked supply vessel. The leak was detected after a second supply ship docked with the space station.
Borisov said the unmanned Soyuz launch would be delayed “until we make sure and get to the site of a possible breakdown.”
Because the new Soyuz will be launched in automatic mode, a replacement crew will now have to wait until late summer or fall when another capsule is ready. Prokopyev and Petelin will need to remain at the station for several more months, potentially pushing their mission past a year.
Besides Prokopyev and Petelin, NASA astronauts Nicole Mann, Josh Cassada, Russian Anna Kikina, and Koichi Wakata from Japan are also stationed at the space station. They rode on the SpaceX capsule in October.
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