As of last week, it was unclear when the replacement would be launched after a second Russian spacecraft, one used to transport cargo only and not people, suffered similar damage. The Russian space agency has been trying to figure out what caused the leaks, but has determined that the Soyuz replacement vehicle was good to fly.
In a call with reporters Tuesday evening, Dana Weigel, NASA’s deputy manager of the International Space Station program, said Russia has “taken a look at the upcoming Soyuz that’s slated to launch and they’re not seeing any issues with the vehicle, so they’re pressing ahead with their launch preparations.”
She added that NASA has been in touch with their Russian counterparts as the they investigate the cause of the problems.
“What they’re really trying to understand is, are there any signs or signatures that somewhere along the spacecraft’s journey, whether its launch or launch vehicle separation, there’s some other external influence or damage that could have occurred that could have been a factor there,” she said.
The crew — NASA astronaut Frank Rubio and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin — launched to the International Space Station in September in what was supposed to be a six-month stay, with a return trip set for March.
Normally, crews rotate out after six-month stays on the space station, and Rubio, Prokopyev and Petelin were to return when a replacement crew flying the next spacecraft would relieve them. Since Roscosmos is now sending that spacecraft as a rescue vehicle, with no crew on board, the replacement crew won’t fly until September. And so Rubio, Prokopyev and Petelin will remain aboard the space station until the new crew arrives.
NASA expects to fly its next crew to the space station early Monday morning. The Crew-6 astronauts, two from NASA, one from Russia and one from the United Arab Emirates, will fly on SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft. They would replace the Crew-5 contingent, which will likely home a few days later.