Two cosmonauts were preparing to float out of theWednesday for a planned spacewalk when Russian air traffic controllers noticed what appeared to be a significant cooling system leak in the only Soyuz crew ferry docked at the outpost.
NASA cameras showed a torrent of white flakes pouring into space, which appeared to be coming from near the aft instrumentation and propulsion module of the Soyuz MS-22/68S spacecraft carrying Sergey Prokopyev, Dmitri Petelin, and the NASA astronaut Frank Rubio on Sept. 29. 21.
Prokopyev and Petelin were ready — and in the process of depressurizing Poisk’s airlock compartment to begin an already planned spacewalk — when Russian air traffic controllers canceled the excursion between telemetry and video analysis to determine the nature of the lost.
While no one aboard the space station was in danger, the Soyuz spacecraft is the only Russian ferry docked with the space station and is the only way home for Prokopyev, Petelin and Rubio. They are scheduled to undock and return to Earth at the end of March.
It is not yet known whether the Soyuz can go home as-is with a damaged cooling system, whether some sort of spacewalk repair is possible, or whether a replacement Soyuz should be launched.
In any case, the leak was still visible three hours after it was first detected.
Rob Navias, mission control commentator at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, said the leak was detected after telemetry indicated low pressure in a Soyuz coolant loop.
“We noticed a visible stream of flakes coming from the Soyuz stern near the instrumentation and propulsion module that was indicative of a leak,” Navias said. “Experts, specialists in Moscow, are assessing the nature of the fluid that appears to be leaking from Soyuz and what impact it might have on the integrity of Soyuz MS-22.”
What might have caused the leak — a space debris impact, pressure-related hardware failure, or some other problem — is not yet known.
The ISS is made up of rotating crews of astronaut-cosmonauts who launch to the laboratory aboard the three-seat Soyuz spacecraft and the four-seat SpaceX Crew Dragon ferry boats. Once docked at the lab, the ferryboats act as lifeboats in case of an emergency that might force a crew to leave early.
Crews must disembark on the same ferry that carried them into orbit. For NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, along with Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata and cosmonaut Anna Kikina, that means Crew Dragoninto orbit on 5 October.
Prokopyev, Petelin and Rubio werethe Soyuz MS-22/68S spacecraft on 21 September. If the ferry was deemed unfit to fly due to the alleged loss of coolant, the Russians would probably have to send another Soyuz to bring them home.
How long it could take, if necessary, is not yet known. But the Russians launched an unmanned Soyuz to the Salyut 6 space station in 1979 after an engine problem raised questions about the safety of another Soyuz already docked at the outpost. The crew took the replacement Soyuz home and landed safely.
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