Russian space officials will make their “final decision” in January about whether to let a leaky Soyuz bear its crew back to Earth, according to state media.
The Russian federal space agenc Roscosmos said it is awaiting the results of a working group investigating the findings of a severe Soyuz spacecraft leak on the International Space Station on Dec. 15 that spewed coolant into space.
Roscosmos will release “possible changes in the station’s flight program in January 2023 on the basis of the working groups’ findings,” state media provider TASS wrote (opens in new tab) on Tuesday (Dec. 27).
Follow-up scans of the Soyuz revealed a hole in its radiator exterior and it is unclear if the spacecraft can bring home two cosmonauts and an astronaut. Since Russia cannot launch a backup craft until February, this may mean the three ISS crew members have no lifeboat in case of emergency. The cause has not yet been determined.
Related: Hole in leaky Russian Soyuz spacecraft not caused by Geminid meteor
TASS and Roscosmos maintain the cause was likely “a micrometeoroid or space debris.” The hole is roughly 0.8 mm in size and an object that caused a hole of that size would not be trackable with current technology, NASA and other space agencies have said.
The space station has been subject to several close calls with space debris lately, including a Russian Fregat rocket stage that swung within less than a mile (0.4 km) on Dec. 21, forcing the ISS to dodge and NASA to delay a spacewalk by a day.
While the ISS crew is in no immediate danger from the leak, they do depend on spacecraft to come home in case of other emergency on the complex. The crew members were supposed to return home in March, but a rescue Soyuz could be ready in February, two or three weeks earlier, if required, Roscosmos has said.
Sending the affected crew members home in a SpaceX Dragon would require a separate launch and a separate set of spacesuits that are usually custom-made for astronauts or cosmonauts ahead of launch.
Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of “Why Am I Taller (opens in new tab)?” (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or Facebook (opens in new tab).