Vexing Space Station Air Leak Traced to Russian Module After False Alarm

Vexing Space Station Air Leak Traced to Russian Module After False Alarm
The International Space Station. (Image: NASA)

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station sprung to action late Monday night following concerns that a persistent air leak had grown in size. It turned out to be a false alarm, but during the event, the crew managed to trace the source of the leak to a Russian service module.

NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Roscosmos cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner were awakened by flight controllers late Monday and told to scour the Russian side of the International Space Station in an attempt to pinpoint the source of an air leak that appeared to be growing in size. Thankfully, the flight controllers were wrong, as they mistook a temporary temperature change aboard the ISS for a growing leak, according to NASA. The overall rate of the air leak, which was detected a year ago, is the same as it was before.

That’s obviously good news, but the impromptu search has led to an important discovery: The leak is coming from somewhere inside the Russian Zvezda service module.

The Expedition 63 crew, after being roused from their slumber, were told to seal the space station’s hatches and enter into the Russian section where they were to conduct their search.

“One by one, the crew closed hatches between Zvezda’s aft and forward sections and Zvezda’s passageways to the Pirs Docking Compartment and the Poisk module while using an ultrasonic leak detector to collect data,” reports NASA.

Once this work was complete, the crew reopened the hatches and resumed their regular duties. On the ground, a team of experts analysed the data, exposing the source of the air leak as being somewhere inside Zvezda, which is the primary living and working module for Russia’s cosmonauts. With the source of this air leak whittled down to a single module, the crew can now sharpen their search.

This is now the third time in over a month that the crew has had to perform an investigation like this. Previous leak checks were done in the U.S., European, and Japanese modules, all of which are in the American segment of the ISS. The air leak was detected last year, but flight controllers deemed it small and unthreatening, so other work took priority. The leak currently “poses no immediate danger to the crew at the current leak rate,” according to NASA.

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That said, NASA will be transporting extra air tanks to the ISS during the next re-supply mission, which is scheduled to launch tomorrow aboard an uncrewed Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo craft.

And indeed, things are about to get hectic up there.

On October 14, NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov will fly to the ISS aboard a Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft. And on October 31, a SpaceX Crew Dragon (dubbed Resilience) will deliver NASA astronauts Victor Glover, Michael Hopkins, Shannon Walker, and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi to the ISS. Collectively, they will comprise the Expedition 64 crew, which will complete its stint in April 2021.

Let’s hope this annoying leak will be rectified by then.