(CNN) Russia launches Soyuz spacecraft to replace capsule A coolant leak occurred In December, it left two astronauts and a NASA astronaut without a ride home.
The capsule, known as Soyuz MS-23, lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Russia, at 7:24 p.m. ET on Thursday, or 5:24 a.m. on Friday. local time.
The uncrewed spacecraft will spend about two days in orbit, maneuvering toward the International Space Station, where it is expected to dock with the Poisk module — which is on the Russian-operated part of the space station — sometime after 8 p.m. Saturday.
Soyuz MS-23 will be the return vehicle for cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, who all traveled to the space station in September aboard the Soyuz MS-22 capsule.
Instead of flying with crew members aboard, Soyuz MS-23 launched Thursday with a “zero-g indicator,” which can be any object left in the cabin and is designed to float freely as the capsule enters microgravity. For this task, the indicator is a teddy bear attached by a string inside the cabin.
What causes a coolant leak?
About two months into the trip for the three men, MS-22 experienced a coolant leak that left the cabin at a temperature deemed unsafe for them to use on the return trip. The Russian space agency Roscosmos and NASA quickly worked to establish plans for a launch Replacement vehicle. Roscosmos officials said this resulted in a leak A small hole caused by an impact Micro meteorite.
However, plans to launch a recovery vehicle were called into question when the Russian cargo ship Progress experienced a similar coolant leak after docking with the space station. On February 11. Three days later, Roscosmos said in a post on the social media site Telegram. Delay the Soyuz MS-23 launch until at least March The agency investigated the cause of the coolant leak in the Progress vehicle.
On Tuesday, However, Roscosmos said in an updated Telegram post that it had determined that the cause of the Progress spacecraft leak was “external influences.”
“The Russians continue to look into both the Soyuz and Progress coolant leaks,” Dana Weigel, NASA’s deputy space station administrator, said during a briefing Wednesday.
“They created a state commission to assess anomalies,” he added, adding that the team has been analyzing possible causes since the launch of the capsules through their journey into orbit.
Originally, Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub and NASA astronaut Loral O’Hara were expected to launch to the space station on March 16 on MS-23.
Instead, Prokopyev, Petelin and Rubio’s time on the space station will be extended until they return to Earth on Soyuz MS-23 later this year. According to reports by Russia’s state-run media, that could happen in September Toss.
If that deadline holds, the three crew members will have extended their expected six-month stint in space by a year.
When asked about the long stay, Joel Montalbano, NASA’s space station program manager, said the crew was in good health and there was no reason to accelerate their journey.
“The crew is ready to help wherever we ask,” Montalbano said during a Jan. 11 news conference. “They’re excited to be in space, excited to work and excited to do the research we’re doing in orbit. So they are willing to do whatever we decide for them.”
He added, “I might have to fly a little more Reward them with ice cream.”
The launch of the Soyuz MS-23 spacecraft comes just days before NASA and SpaceX launch their Crew-6 mission. Expected to fly early Monday morning, Crew-6 will carry NASA astronauts Stephen Bowen and Warren “Woody” Hoberg, along with United Arab Emirates astronaut Sultan Alnyadi and Roscosmos astronaut Andrey Fedayev.
In a short time The four arrive at the space station, where NASA’s Crew-5 astronauts will return home after a five-month stay. There in the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule. NASA officials said this week that coolant leaks in the Soyuz and Progress vehicles will have no impact on SpaceX missions, and that no similar problems have been detected in the Crew Dragon vehicles.
CNN’s Ashley Strickland contributed to this report.