Roscosmos today announced that it will launch the unmanned Soyuz to ISS on February 21st, only a two-day delay after doing a quick inspection of its outer surface for possible damage following the coolant leak of a Progress freighter on February 11th.
BtB’s stringer Jay provided me this translation of the announcement at the link:
The Soyuz MS-23 spacecraft has been checked and is beginning to be prepared for launch. The preparations suspended the day before at Baikonur will resume tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.
The launch is scheduled for the 20th of February.
The ship was inspected. No maliciously drilled holes were found. We decided not to wait any longer. In any case, a refueled ship must either be launched or sent to a museum.
Update: removal of the launch vehicle to the launch pad on February 18, launch on February 21″ [emphasis mine]
The highlighted words are truly intriguing. It appears Roscosmos is desperately trying to convince the world that the repeated recent leaks to Soyuz and Progress spacecraft are not related to sabotage on the ground. At the same, Roscosmos has never told us the results of its investigation into the 2018 hole in a Soyuz capsule that someone drilled and then patched before launch. It seems incredibly unlikely that the two recent leaks in the exterior coolant systems of two different spacecrafts were both caused by impact from a micrometeorite or tiny piece of space junk. Two such impacts could of course occur this frequently, but for both to happen to such similar locations on only Russian spacecraft seems beyond improbable.
Either way, the decision makes some sense. The available lifeboats on ISS right now are really insufficient. Better to get this launched. More important, they had already begun fueling it, and once that is done the clock was running. They have to launch by a certain time.
Meanwhile it would be wise for NASA to begin arranging new emergency lifeboat arrangements with SpaceX as well as Boeing (once it finally gets Starliner operational). Depending on the Russians for even part of this responsibility seems ill advised. If preplanned properly, SpaceX could certainly launch one of its Dragon manned capsules quickly in an emergency.
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