Russia on Friday launched a new rescue capsule from Kazakhstan that will eventually bring back three astronauts whose original return capsule was found to be punctured.
Loaded with supplies, the Soyuz MS-23 vessel was launched from the Russian-operated Baikonur Cosmodrome. It is slated to reach the orbiting lab and dock with the International Space Station on Sunday.
However, it is not going to bring back the three astronauts — US astronaut Frank Rubio and Russian cosmonauts Dmitry Petelin and Sergei Prokopyev until September.
The three astronauts reached the ISS last September and their mission was supposed to last for six months but it was prolonged because their return vehicle started leaking coolant in December. The reason for the leak as believed by US and Russian space officials was a micrometeorite that damaged an external radiator.
A similar leak was reported in a Russian cargo ship docked to the ISS since October. That uncrewed cargo ship was released from the space station last week.
Prolonged space mission
Fearing manufacturing defects, the Russian Space Agency had delayed the launch of the new rescue capsule.
The rescue capsule was scheduled for launch in March and was going to have two cosmonauts and an astronaut on board to replace Rubio, Petelin, and Prokopyev.
However, without replacements, the three will now be spending close to a year on the ISS. They will only make their return to Earth once a new capsule, with crew replacements, is ready for launch in September.
Once humans reach the ISS, capsules remain attached to the orbiting research lab for the entire duration of missions, to bring back astronauts to Earth upon completion of their missions.
The damaged capsule will return to Earth empty so that engineers can examine it.