Authorities first noticed a leak last September, but they did nothing about it for about a year, as the leak was not prominent. In addition, station operations such as space operations and crew exchanges kept crew members too busy to collect enough data about the issue.
Recently, however, technicians detected an already increased leakage rate. So NASA announced on 20 August that three people aboard the station – NASA astronauts Chris Cassidy and Roskosmos Cosmonauts Anatoly Evenis and Ivan Wagner – would start a hunt for the source.
NASA spokesman Daniel Huet told Business Insider last week that the discovery is “taking longer than expected”.
Indeed, Huot said on Tuesday that the technical teams were still reviewing the data collected by the crew. He has now rejected most of the station’s modules, Huot said, “should complete their review in the coming days.”
If experts still cannot pinpoint the leak after this, he said, they will need a new action plan.
‘No worries for crew or vehicle safety’
Typically, a little of the space station’s lost air can be turned into missions to resume large high-pressure tanks filled with nitrogen and oxygen. But such tanks may not be able to divert air so quickly if this small leakage becomes prominent.
So over the weekend of 22 and 23 August, three crew members shut down the space station’s Zvezda service module, the section providing their life-support systems, and the hatch between each of the other modules.
From there, teams from crew members and grounds monitored the air pressure in each section to find out who was leaking.
NASA originally thought that US and Russian experts would detect the leak by the end of last week, though it did not. The team decided to spend a few days after the initial weekend of monitoring to collect data from the hat, Huot said.
Nevertheless, he said, the leak is still too small to be a threat to the crew or station.
“Due to the design specifications for the station, the leak rate is still stable and well down and there are no concerns for crew or vehicle safety,” Huot said.
In the event of an emergency at the space station, crew members can return to Earth via the Soyuz MS-16 spacecraft that dock there. In less extreme scenarios, the crew can also cut the leaking module and disassemble it.
The space station has had a leak before
This is not the first leak at the station, nor the most frightening. In August 2018, crew members discovered a 2-millimeter drill hole in part of a Russian Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft that was docked at the station at the time.
The hole indicated a manufacturing defect – it appeared that someone on Earth had tried to plug the hole with paint, but that paint broke after reaching the Soyuz space station.
In December 2018, two Cosmonauts donated the spacecraft and floated outside the Soyuz ship to study the holes in detail. He spent about eight hours hacking away at the insulation with a knife to find and document it.
After that, the crew of the space-station successfully patched the hole with an epoxy sealant.
Roscosmos remained relatively calm about that incident.
According to Russian state news agency Riya Novosti at the Youth Science Conference in September 2019, the head of Roskosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, said, “We know exactly what happened, but we won’t tell you anything.”
Keith Coving, editor of the site NASA Watch, told Houston Chronicle He thought Roskosmos’ privacy stems from embarrassment.
But also that the leak was not a major issue, he said.
“Nothing is right. You can make all the effort that nothing happens.” History. “The problem was found, it was removed, it was fixed in short order, and nobody’s life was at risk.”
This article was originally published by Business Insider.
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