A leak has sprung up of a Russian crew capsule in space Wednesday at 7:45 p.m. Eastern Time, spraying coolant in low Earth orbit. This happened less than two hours before a planned spacewalk. On Thursday afternoon, an ongoing investigation by NASA and Russia “postponed indefinitely” the next spacewalk.
This is a developing story. Above all, the ISS crew is safe.
This “visible stream of flakes,” NASA communications manager Rob Navias describes the view during a live broadcast, raises the question of whether or not the crew of Expedition 68 on the International Space Station (ISS) will face a hurdle to return home next year. Crew capsules make both outward and return trips. The Expedition 68 mission is scheduled to end in March 2023.
Three astronauts traveled to low Earth orbit on September 21 aboard this Russian Soyuz MS-22 capsule. This included the two Russian cosmonauts – Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin – who were about to emerge from the airlock of the International Space Station’s Poisk module for a spacewalk on Wednesday. NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, not involved in the spacewalk, was the third Soyuz passenger.
“Crew members aboard the space station are safe and in no danger during the escape,” NASA’s space station blog said Thursday. “The space station is in good condition and the Expedition 68 crew is safe,” NASA’s space station Twitter account said. tweeted Wednesday.
At the time of the leak, the duo were preparing to step out on a 7-hour spacewalk. Also known as EVA – short for extravehicular activity – this procedure would have taken over the work that Prokopyev and Petelin left behind when they spacewalked on November 17. This would have marked the 12th spacewalk on the ISS of 2022, designed to transfer a radiator from the ISS Rassvet module and then connect it to the Nauka general purpose laboratory module. Nauka was a 2021 addition to the ISS and also had a dramatic episode upon arrival, in which it misfired its thrusters and tipped the ISS from its typical position in orbit.
On Thursday afternoon, NASA and Russian space agency Roscosmos shared limited information during their ongoing investigation.
“The spacewalk has been canceled and ground crews in Moscow are assessing the nature of fluid and potential impacts on the integrity of the Soyuz spacecraft, which carried Prokopyev, Petelin and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio in space following its launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on September 21,” NASA shared in a blog post on Wednesday.
“The cosmonauts did not exit the space station and no crew members were exposed to the leaking coolant,” NASA wrote in a Thursday afternoon update.
In a later post, NASA officials shared that the suspected leak source was “the Soyuz’s external radiator cooling loop.”
“Roscosmos is closely monitoring Soyuz spacecraft temperatures, which remain within acceptable limits,” NASA added. “NASA and Roscosmos continue to coordinate external imaging and inspection plans to help assess the location of the external leak. Plans for additional inspection of the Soyuz exterior using the Canadarm2 robotic arm of the station are in progress.
According to Russian state news agency TASS, “the loss of pressure in the thermal system of the Soyuz spacecraft docked at the station” triggered the suspension of Wednesday’s spacewalk.
In a separate TASS message, it said a preliminary assessment shows the leak originated from damage to “the outer shell of the instrumentation and equipment compartment of the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft.”
TASS added that “the crew later reported an activation of the spacecraft’s fault detection system sensor which signaled a drop in pressure in the cooling system.”
Former NASA astronauts have taken to Twitter to voice their concerns. Scott Kelly, former American astronaut from Twins Study called flight a “serious situation”. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield shared his thoughts via the social media platform as well, also describing her nature as “serious” and adding, “Not good, lots of quick decision making going on.”