A Russian Soyuz spacecraft took off on the night of Thursday February 23 to Friday February 24 from Kazakhstan in the direction of the International Space Station (ISS), in order to bring back to Earth next September two Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut whose initial spacecraft has been damaged.
The MS-23 rescue spacecraft took off, without anyone on board, from the Baikonur cosmodrome, according to a live video broadcast from NASA, which operates the space station (ISS) with the Russian space agency Roscosmos.
It must dock with the ISS overnight from Saturday to Sunday.
Three passengers stranded on board the ISS
The take-off of this device was initially scheduled for mid-March and it was to transport a new crew of three people to the space station.
He finally left empty in order to be able to bring back the three passengers stranded on board the ISS: the American Frank Rubio as well as the Russians Sergei Prokopiev and Dmitri Peteline.
In the absence of a crew to replace them, the latter's mission was extended until September, when they were originally due to return at the end of March.
They will therefore spend a total of about a year in space, instead of six months.
They will not be the first to stay so long in the ISS, this duration having already been equaled just last year.
Roscosmos excludes a manufacturing defect
The two Russian cosmonauts and the American astronaut took off at the end of September 2022 with the Soyuz MS-22.
The vessels aboard which astronauts and cosmonauts arrive on the ISS then remain docked to the station throughout their stay, in order to be able to serve as a backup vehicle in the event of an emergency evacuation being necessary.
They also leave on board the same craft.
But in December, the Soyuz MS-22 suffered a spectacular leak, due, according to Moscow, to the impact of a micrometeorite.
The coolant leak had raised concerns about the temperature that might be reached inside the ship when it returned to Earth.
The Russian space agency has therefore decided that it can only be used in an emergency, and has chosen to send the MS-23 spacecraft as a replacement, which will bring the crew back in September.
The damaged MS-22 ship must be undocked from the ISS and return to Earth empty,
at the end of next month.
Roscosmos said Tuesday that an "external impact" caused the leak, and ruled out a manufacturing defect.