russia prepares “rescue” mission after coolant leak on the capsule of the Soyuz spacecraft docked to the International Space Station (ISS). NASA reported at a briefing for the mass media that the russian agency Roscosmos will send an empty Soyuz to the station on February 20 as a replacement for the damaged spacecraft. Initially, it was supposed to be launched in March.

The leaking capsule is expected to return to Earth without a crew sometime in March. It will still carry experiments and other cargo.

Cosmonauts Dmitri Petelin and Sergey Prokopyev, as well as NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, will now remain in orbit for several months longer, instead of returning to Earth in March as planned.

The stricken ship began spraying particles on December 14. The ISS team quickly noticed that the external cooling circuit of the radiator was to blame, and later investigators determined that a micrometeorite had entered the radiator. Roscosmos soon decided that the Soyuz was too dangerous to use for standard crew returns. The temperature upon entering the atmosphere would exceed 100 degrees Celsius, which would threaten both the crew and computer equipment. According to the representative of the agency, repairs in space would be impractical because the procedure would be too complicated.

The ISS crew is still ready to use the broken Soyuz for emergency evacuation. However, this is not ideal when three of the seven people aboard the ISS will likely have to take increased risks to return home.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule is also docked with the ISS, but it usually holds only four passengers. The head of NASA’s ISS program, Joel Montalbano, said at a briefing that negotiations were held with the SpaceX company to understand whether one of the Soyuz passengers would be able to travel aboard the Crew Dragon if necessary.