Soyuz spacecraft images show leak

16th Feb 2023
Soyuz spacecraft images show leak

Russia’s space agency has released new images of the coolant leak found in its Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft from last December. Roscosmos released the details in a Telegram on Monday, claiming the images show a “violation of the outer skin” from “external damage”.

Soyuz MS-22 launched last September with three crewmembers on board, including NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, and Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Fairly susbstantial leak from Soyuz

However, on 14th December, NASA and Roscosmos revealed a “fairly substantial” leak that was traced back to the coolant system of the spacecraft, forcing the cancellation of a spacewalk that was set to take place that day. While the space agencies insisted all astronauts onboard were not in immediate danger, the spacecraft became unusable and interfered with plans for returning the astronauts back home in late March.

Since then, the Russian space agency has deemed the issue might have been associated with the Germinid meteor shower (which occurred from 4th to 17th December 2022), causing a meteoroid to create the hole, but it is still unclear. The images caption says:

“An image of the hole in the radiator of the ship’s thermoregulation system, captured with the camera on the manipulator on the American segment of the ISS”.

Depressurization pressures mounting

To make things worse, another Roscosmos spacecraft experienced a separate issue recently, as its Progress 82 vehicle (MS-21) reportedly experienced a “depressurization” shortly after Progress 83 docked with the station on the 11th February. Progress 83 docked with the station to provide supplies to the Expedition 68 crew onboard, such as food and fuel.

“The reason for the loss of coolant in the Progress 82 spacecraft is being investigated,” NASA said in a statement. “The hatches between the Progress 82 and the station are open, and temperatures and pressures aboard the station are all normal. The crew, which was informed of the cooling loop leak, is in no danger and continuing with normal space station operations.”

In the latest Telegram post from Roscosmos, the agency says that a “commission” is working on the MS-21 case. The agency said:

“Until the cause of the emergency situation is determined, a decision was made to postpone the launch of the Soyuz MS-23 spacecraft in unmanned mode until March 2023. We emphasize that nothing threatens the life and health of the crew.”

Emergency evacuation plans now riskier

While the leak issues have posed risks to the International Space Station’s operations and delayed launches, it also impacts emergency evacuations.

MS-22 would only be used in an emergency evacuation now due to its damages, but if one occurs before the MS-23 arrives in March, an additional astronaut will be placed in the SpaceX Dragon capsule along with four others.

Only Prokopyev and Petelin will travel in MS-22, as the leak poses a heightened risk if three were in the “coolant-less” Soyuz during its re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

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