ISS Crew Detects An Elusive Air Leak Using Floating Tea Leaves


The International Space Station has been leaking unusual amounts of air since September 2019.

First, crew members resolved the problem, as the leak was not prominent. But in August, the leakage rate increased, causing the astronauts and the Cosmonauts to orbit orbiting the orbit to try to locate its source in earnest.

Russia’s space agency Roskosmos announced on Thursday that after crew members designed an unusual test, it finally pinpointed the location of the leak: They let the tea leaves guide their search.

Cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanish released some leaves from a tea bag in the transfer chamber of the Zvezda service to the Russian section section of the station, which houses a kitchen, sleeping quarters and bathrooms. The crew then closed the chamber by closing their hatch, and monitoring the tea leaves on video cameras as they were swimming in microgravity.

The leaves slowly floated towards a scratch in the wall near the module’s communications equipment evidence that it was a crack through which air was escaping.

The crew patches the leak using Kempton tape, Roskosmos Reported on monday.

Astronaut Jeffrey Ashby moved to the Zweda Services module on 25 May 2011. (NASA)

One year air leak at space station

The International Space Station always leaks a little air. Typically, resupply missions carry highly pressurized containers filled with a mixture of oxygen and nitrogen to lose air and ISS. This mixture is designed to mimic the breathing air of the earth.

But in September 2019, the standard leakage rate increased slightly. According to Russian news agency Rhea Novosti, no major risk was considered in August 2020, but the already increased rate increased fivefold, from 0.6 to 3.1 pounds per day.

So over the last two months, crew members hunted for leaks in different parts of the station and monitored their pressure changes.

First, crew members traveled down the Zvezda module while they tested other sections of the ship; When he did not find evidence of leaks in those volumes, he determined that the leak was likely to occur in Zvezda itself.

Eventually, astronauts and Cosmonauts confined the source to Zvezda’s transfer chamber. But they still could not find the exact location of the leak.

Then came the trick of tea-leaf.

According to the Russian news agency TASS, “we believe that we have indeed identified the potential leakage area”.

The tape placed above the crack can remain stable and viscous with a wide range of tape temperatures, including absolute void of space. But members do not think the tape is likely to last long; They hope to replace it soon with more reliable patches.

According to Tass, “Maybe we try to work harder with our teammates. We can talk with them. That’s because the current patch is not so efficient.”

Roskosmos did not respond to Business Insider’s questions at the time of publication, but the agency said in a tweet that it was “working on a program of operations to permanently seal the leak location.”

NASA spokesman Daniel Huet told Business Insider that the leak “does not pose any immediate threat to the crew at the current leak rate.”

The first problem is not on the Russian side of the space station

The leak is one of several recent issues at the space station, which is beginning to show its age after destroying its 15-year life expectancy by five years.

The station has some older modules in the Russian section of the station. In the last few months, it has seen a stir in a toilet and a mysterious rise in temperature. Then on Wednesday, the section’s oxygen supply system broke down. According to Roskosmos, crew members fixed the system by Saturday.

But overall, the failures are indicative that the Russian side of the ISS probably needs to be upgraded.

“All modules of the Russian section are finished,” Cosmonaut Gennady Padalka told Ria Novosti.

This latest leak was also not the first on the Russian side. In August 2018, crew members discovered a 2-millimeter drill hole in part of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft that was docked at the station.

Holes and patches in the Soyuz spacecraft in 2018.  (NASA / Chris Burgin / Twitter)Holes and patches in the Soyuz spacecraft in 2018. (NASA / Chris Burgin / Twitter)

The hole seemed to stem from a manufacturing defect; Someone on earth had apparently plugged in with paint, hoping no one would notice. The paint, it appeared, later broke. Cosmonauts eventually patched that hole with epoxy sealant.

Katya Ayanova contributed translation assistance to this story.

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

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