Russian space agency says a backup circuit is leaking on the ISS

Times postOct 16, 20233
Share Tweet Pin it

The Russian space agency, Roscosmos, is facing a new challenge as it investigates a coolant leak in one of its modules on the International Space Station (ISS). This incident adds to a series of mechanical issues that Roscosmos has been dealing with in the low-Earth orbit in the past year. Roscosmos issued a notice on Monday via the messaging platform Telegram, reporting that the coolant leak affected a radiator circuit within the Nauka module, situated in the Russian-controlled segment of the ISS. The Nauka module was integrated into the space station in July 2021, but the leak occurred in an external backup radiator that had been delivered to the ISS during a space shuttle mission in 2010, as per information provided by NASA.

lakes of frozen coolant spraying into space were seen in an official live feed of the orbital lab provided by Nasa on Monday, and confirmed in radio chatter between US mission control and astronauts. “The Nauka module of the Russian segment of the ISS has suffered a coolant leak from the external (backup) radiator circuit, which was delivered to the station in 2012,” Russian space agency Roscosmos said on Telegram, adding temperatures remained normal in the affected unit.

Nauka, which means “science” in Russian and is also known as the Multipurpose Laboratory Module-Upgrade (MLM), launched in 2021. US mission control in Houston could be heard asking astronauts on the American side to investigate. “Hi, we’re seeing flakes outside, we need a crew to go to the cupola, we think windows five or six, and confirm any visual flakes,” an official said to the astronauts. “There’s a leak coming from the radiator on MLM,” Jasmin Moghbeli replied later. This is the third coolant leak to hit the Russian side of the ISS in less than a year. On 15 December 2022, dramatic Nasa TV images showed white particles resembling snowflakes streaming out of the rear of a docked Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft for several hours.

Speculation about the cause centred on an unlucky strike by a tiny space rock, or micro-meteor. That spaceship returned to Earth uncrewed, and then another uncrewed Soyuz was sent to replace it a few months later. Two Russians and an American crew member had to stay for a year-long mission as a result, returning home only last month. A similar leak in mid-February also affected the Russian Progress MS-21 cargo ship, which had been docked to the ISS since October 2022. The succession of leaks lowers the probability they were caused by meteorites. Space analyst Jonathan McDowell told AFP: “You’ve got three coolant systems leaking – there’s a common thread there. One is whatever, two is a coincidence, three is something systemic,” he said, speculating that a subcontractor company may be at fault. “It really just emphasises the degrading reliability of Russian space systems. When you add it to the context of their failed moon probe in August, they’re not looking great.” The Russian space sector, which has historically been the pride of the country, has been facing difficulties for years, between lack of funding, failures and corruption scandals. The ISS is one of the few areas of continuing cooperation between Moscow and Washington since the start of the Russian offensive in Ukraine and the international sanctions that followed.

Coolant leaked from a backup line at the International Space Station, Russian officials said Monday, adding that there was no risk to the crew or the outpost. Russian space agency Roscosmos said that coolant leaked from an external backup radiator for Russia's new science lab. The lab's main thermal control system was working normally, the agency emphasised. “The crew and the station aren’t in any danger,” Roscosmos said. NASA confirmed that there is no threat to the station’s crew of seven and that operations are continuing as usual. ALSO READ Four astronauts return to Earth in SpaceX capsule to wrap up six-month station mission (For top technology news of the day, subscribe to our tech newsletter Today’s Cache) Roscosmos said engineers were investigating the cause of the leak. The incident follows recent coolant leaks from Russian spacecraft parked at the station. Those leaks were blamed on tiny meteoroids. The lab — named Nauku, which means science — arrived at the space station in July 2021. Last December, coolant leaked from a Soyuz crew capsule docked to the station, and another similar leak from a Progress supply ship was discovered in February. A Russian investigation concluded that those leaks likely resulted from hits by tiny meteoroids, not manufacturing flaws. The Soyuz leak resulted in an extended stay for NASA astronaut Frank Rubio and his two Russian crewmates, Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin, who spent 371 days in orbit instead of six months. A replacement capsule was sent to the station for their ride home. The space station, which has served as a symbol of post-Cold War international cooperation, is now one of the last remaining areas of cooperation between Russia and the West amid the tensions over Moscow’s military action in Ukraine. NASA and its partners hope to continue operating the orbiting outpost until 2030. Current residents are: NASA’s astronauts Jasmin Moghbeli and Loral O’Hara, the European Space Agency’s Andreas Mogensen, Russian cosmonauts Konstantin Borisov, Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub and Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa.