Russia delays launch to space station while leak is investigated

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MOSCOW — Russia will postpone the launch of an empty space capsule to the International Space Station pending further investigation of a coolant leak on a supply ship docked at the station, the second such leak on a Russian craft docked in two. months, said the head of Russia. the Roscosmos space corporation said Monday.

The Soyuz capsule would launch in automatic mode on February 20 and dock at the orbital outpost two days later, to serve as a lifeboat for crew evacuation in an emergency. Roscosmos director Yuri Borisov said the launch will be delayed until early March at the latest.

A Soyuz capsule that can accommodate an astronaut capsule and already docked to the station developed a refrigerant leak in December.

Russians Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio were supposed to return to Earth in March in that capsule, but Russian space officials said higher temperatures from the coolant leak could make that dangerous. .

Then another refrigerant leak was detected Saturday on a docked supply ship. The leak was detected after a second supply ship docked with the space station.

Borisov said the Soyuz unmanned launch would be delayed «until we make sure and get to the site of a potential failure.»

Because the new Soyuz will launch in automatic mode, a replacement crew will now have to wait until late summer or fall when another capsule is ready. That means Prokopyev, Petelin and Rubio will have to spend several more months on the station, possibly taking their mission to close to a year.

In addition to Prokopyev, Petelin and Rubio, the space station is home to NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada; the Russian Anna Kikina; and the Japanese Koichi Wakata. The four traveled in a SpaceX capsule last October.

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