Russian Engineers Assess Soyuz Crew Spacecraft Leak – Spaceflight Now

Coolant particles leak from the Russian Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft outside the International Space Station. Credit: NASA TV / Spaceflight Now

A Russian Soyuz ferry docked with the International Space Station spewed particles of an unknown substance, believed to be coolant, into space on Wednesday evening, forcing two Russian cosmonauts to cancel a planned spacewalk as engineers on the ground rushed to determine the source and effects of the leak.

Mission controllers first observed the leak around 7:45 p.m. EST Wednesday (0045 GMT Thursday), according to Rob Navias, a NASA spokesperson providing commentary on NASA TV. The leak occurred as Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin prepared for a spacewalk to help move a radiator from outside the Russian Rassvet module to the space station’s Nauka science module.

But before the cosmonauts could exit, Russian ground controllers near Moscow noticed “a significant leak of an unknown substance from the aft portion of the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft docked to the International Space Station’s Rassvet module,” NASA said in a brief statement. Wednesday evening.

Navias said Russian ground crews noticed a warning tone indicating a drop in pressure in an external cooling loop on the Soyuz spacecraft when the jet of snow-like particles was first observed s away from the capsule.

There are two collectors in the Soyuz spacecraft’s unique cooling loop, Navias said. It was not immediately clear what impact the apparent coolant leak might have on the performance of the Soyuz spacecraft, which launched Sept. 21 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with Prokopyev, Petelin and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio.

“The spacewalk has been canceled and ground crews in Moscow are evaluating the nature of fluid and potential impacts to the integrity of the Soyuz spacecraft,” NASA said in a statement.

“Experts in Moscow will review their systems and respond to the leak in accordance with their procedures and policies,” said Emily Nelson, senior director of NASA flights at Johnson Space Center in Houston. “Once they have a good understanding of the final status of the Soyuz tonight, we will then jointly make a decision on where to go from here.”

Navias said there was no danger to the crew from the apparent coolant leak, but officials will have to address the condition of the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft, which is the lifeboat and the return home for three of the crew members on international space. Station.

“The best course of action tonight was to focus all of our attention, all of our Moscow team’s attention, on sorting out what exactly is going on with the Soyuz spacecraft, and we’ll regroup tomorrow,” Nelson said Wednesday. evening.

The configuration of the International Space Station as of December 14, showing the location of the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft docked to the Rassvet module on the side of the complex facing Earth. Credit: NASA

Russian engineers were also evaluating whether the leak could have been caused by impact with space debris or a micrometeoroid, or if it could have been triggered by a problem on the Soyuz spacecraft.

The Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft is scheduled to return to Earth with Prokopyev, Petelin and Rubio on March 28. Until then, the spacecraft is serving as an emergency lifeboat for the three-man crew that was launched aboard in September. If Russian officials determine the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft is unable to get the crew home, a replacement Soyuz could launch from Baikonur with no one on board to automatically dock with the station.

But it’s unclear when the next online Soyuz, the Soyuz MS-23, might be ready for launch. It is currently scheduled to lift off on March 16 with Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko, Nikolai Chub and NASA astronaut Loral O’Hara to begin a six-month expedition.

Russian ground controllers asked cosmonauts on the station’s Russian segment to take zoomed-in photos of the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft’s instrumentation and propulsion module, the apparent origin of the leak.

NASA astronaut Francisco “Frank” Rubio, Russian commander Sergey Prokopyev and cosmonaut Dmitry Petelin in front of the hatch of the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft before their launch on September 21. Credit: GCTC

There are currently seven crew members on the International Space Station. A SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft is also docked at the U.S. segment of the outpost after arriving Oct. 6 with NASA astronauts Nicole Mann, Josh Cassada, Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata and Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina.

Working from a control panel inside the station, Kikina extended the European robotic arm to monitor the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft after the leak.

The next SpaceX Crew Dragon mission is set to launch Feb. 19 from Kennedy Space Center in Florida with two NASA astronauts, an astronaut from the United Arab Emirates and a Russian cosmonaut.

Two Russian Progress supply ships and a Northrop Grumman Cygnus freighter are also attached to the space station.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Leave a Comment