U.S., Russia Agree to Use Russian Ship for Backup Space Station Mission

U.S., Russia Agree to Use Russian Ship for Backup Space Station Mission


The space agencies for the U.S. and Russia agreed that a Russian spacecraft will fly next month to the International Space Station to retrieve three people, after a leak emerged on the Russian ship that flew them to the facility.

Officials are still determining when the trio would board the empty ship, called Soyuz MS-23, for a return trip to Earth after it docks to the research facility. They are expected to remain in orbit for several extra months, beyond their planned six-month mission.

The U.S. and Russian space agencies have continued to work together on space missions, despite ongoing tensions between the two countries over the war in Ukraine, officials from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration have said. The space station, which relies on technology from both NASA and Roscosmos, is operated by international partnership that also includes space agencies for Europe and Japan.

In December, the Russian-made spacecraft that transported NASA astronaut

Frank Rubio

and Russian cosmonauts

Sergey Prokopyev

and

Dmitri Petelin

to the facility began to leak, according to both agencies.

A Russian-made spacecraft that went to the space station began to leak in December, after being hit by what officials said was a micrometeorite.



Photo:

handout/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

The leak was caused by a micrometeorite that punctured a component on the vehicle, Roscosmos said.

Joel Montalbano,

NASA’s program manager for the space station, said at a briefing Wednesday that images of the problem pointed to that debris as the cause of the leak. “So far we are in concurrence with Roscosmos,” he said.

NASA and Roscosmos are also evaluating options in the event of an emergency, officials said, given the damage to the Russian Soyuz ship.

For one option, NASA has been in discussions with SpaceX about transporting additional people off the station in an emergency, Mr. Montalbano said. Under that potential scenario, one or more additional people would board the SpaceX Crew Dragon craft that is docked right now to the facility for a return flight to Earth, he said.

Amid tensions between Moscow and the West over the Ukraine war, the Russian space agency said the country would quit the International Space Station after 2024. WSJ breaks down the design of the spacecraft to see whether it could function without Russian parts. Photo illustration: Sharon Shi

Sergei Krikalev,

executive director for human space flight programs at Roscosmos, said at the briefing that the Soyuz vehicle that sustained the leak could be used in an emergency situation, but with added risk.

“With our NASA colleagues, we are looking for several options to minimize risk,” such as shifting at least one crew member onto SpaceX’s ship, he said.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp., the formal name for the

Elon Musk

-led company, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

In October, SpaceX transported two NASA astronauts, one Japanese astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut to the space station on a mission for NASA, which has hired aerospace companies to handle crew and cargo runs to the facility.

Anna Kikina,

the Russian cosmonaut on board, joined the SpaceX flight as part of a crew swap between Roscosmos and NASA. Under that deal, NASA’s Mr. Rubio flew to the station on the Russian spacecraft that dealt with the leak.

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NASA, Roscosmos and other space agencies have been setting plans for the future of the space station, where astronauts and cosmonauts work on experiments and conduct scientific research.

Yury Borisov,

head of the Russian space agency, said this past July that Roscosmos would pull out of the facility at some point after 2024. Mr. Krikalev, the agency’s human-spaceflight executive, later said during a briefing with NASA officials that a decision about Russia’s role in the station could occur as soon as 2025 or even in 2030.

NASA wants to keep the station in operation through 2030. The agency is working in parallel with space companies, such as

Jeff Bezos

‘s Blue Origin LLC and

Northrop Grumman Corp.

, on developing privately run stations.

Ann M. Simmons contributed to this article.

Write to Micah Maidenberg at micah.maidenberg@wsj.com

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Author: Shirley