The Russian and US space agencies were working Thursday to assess the severity of an impressive leak that occurred the previous day on a Russian spacecraft docked at the International Space Station, which may have been caused by a micrometeorite impact.
If the crew members were at no point in danger, this incident raised concerns about the return trip to Earth of three of them, scheduled in a few months aboard the vessel in question.
The spaceship Soyuz MS-22 has been docked with the Space Station (ISS) since it brought the two Russian cosmonauts Sergei Prokopiev and Dmitri Peteline there in September, as well as the American astronaut Frank Rubio.
On Wednesday, the two Russians prepared for a spacewalk an alarm system has been triggeredindicating a pressure drop in the spacecraft’s cooling system, according to a statement from the Russian space agency Roscosmos.
In images released by NASA, we could clearly see a jet of white particles escaping plenty in the room, a priori coolant.
“The cause of the leak may be a micrometeorite”, Sergei Krikaliov, the director of human spaceflight for Roscosmos, said Thursday, according to a statement reported by Russian news agency Tass.
The liquid came from the rear of the vehicle, which was docked at the Russian part of the station. The leak then stopped on its own.
The spacewalk was cancelled, “to allow time to assess the fluidity and potential impact on the integrity of the Soyuz spacecraft,” This is stated by NASA in a statement on Thursday.
“Crew members aboard the space station are safe and were not threatened during the escape,” she added, later clarifying that inspections of the exterior of the Russian spacecraft would be conducted using the Canadian robotic arm from the ISS.
The two Russian cosmonauts and the American astronaut arrived at the ISS on September 21 aboard a Russian rocket launched from Kazakhstan.
They usually have to reuse the same ship to return to Earth after about six months, ie. a mission end in March 2023.
If the vehicle is no longer available due to damage, possible backup solutions, not officially detailed, may include dispatching a new ship.
Four other people are currently on board the ISS: Russian Anna Kikina, Americans Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, and Japanese Koichi Wakata.
All four are part of the crew of Crew-5arrived in October at the ISS aboard a spacecraft from the American space company SpaceX, whose services NASA hires.
The exchange of flying a Russian cosmonaut aboard an American spacecraft and an American astronaut aboard a Russian spacecraft was planned for a long time and was maintained despite the high tensions between the two countries.
ISS constitutes one of the few areas of cooperation still ongoing between Moscow and Washington since the beginning of the Russian offensive in Ukraine, launched on February 24, and the Western sanctions that followed.
The International Space Station was launched in 1998 at a time of American-Russian cooperation, following the space race the two countries had participated in during the Cold War.