Mysterious ‘leak’ forces Russia to cancel spacewalk mission

NASA: Particles leak from Soyuz spacecraft

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NASA has warned that a “significant leak of an unknown substance” has occurred in a spacecraft onboard the International Space Station (ISS), forcing the Russian cosmonauts onboard to cancel their planned spacewalk mission. Footage from the US space agency revealed a stream of snowflake-like particles spraying from the rear section of the Soyuz MS-22 capsule. This was the spacecraft that had carried NASA astronaut Frank Rubio and Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin into space after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on September 21 this year. 

NASA’s broadcast showed a “visible stream of flakes”, which was first spotted at about 7.45 pm EST (12.45 am GMT Thursday), following the Russian flight controllers scrapped the mission.

In the clip, NASA commentator Rob Navias said from Johnson Space Center in Houston: “Tonight’s spacewalk has been cancelled because of an observed leak of what is believed to be a cooling substance from the Soyuz MS-22.

“We noticed a visible steam of flakes coming from the aft of the Soyuz near the instrumentation and propulsion module that was indicative of a leak.”

This incident occurred shortly before two of the Roscosmos cosmonauts, crew commander Sergey Prokopyev and flight engineer Dimitri Petelin, were set to embark on a planned spacewalk to move a radiator from one module to another on the Russian segment of the ISS.

In a blog post, NASA said: “During preparations for this evening’s planned spacewalk by Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin, ground teams noticed significant leaking of an unknown substance from the aft portion of the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft docked to the Rassvet module on the International Space Station.

“The spacewalk has been canceled, and ground teams in Moscow are evaluating the nature of the fluid and potential impacts to the integrity of the Soyuz spacecraft, which carried Prokopyev, Petelin, and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio into space after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Sept. 21.”

They later wrote: “Ground teams at Mission Control in Moscow continue to assess a coolant leak detected from the aft end of the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft docked to the International Space Station.

“As a result, the planned Dec.14 Roscosmos spacewalk was canceled to allow time to evaluate the fluid and potential impacts to the integrity of the Soyuz spacecraft.

“NASA and Roscosmos will continue to work together to determine the next course of action following the ongoing analysis. The crew members aboard the space station are safe, and were not in any danger during the leak.”

An official for the Roscosmos mission control operations near Moscow was heard telling the cosmonauts in a radio transmission that their spacewalk was being aborted while engineers worked to determine the nature of the leak.

Mr Navias added that the cancelled spacewalk had already been postponed once before in late November, due to faulty cooling pumps in the cosmonauts’ spacesuits.

In the footage, he was heard saying: “This is mission control Houston, as spacewalk preparations have been ongoing over the past hour or so, Russian flight controllers, and the flight controllers here at Mission Control in Houston have been noticing a stream of particles coming out of the Soyuz MS-22 vehicle that is attached is attached to the Rassvet module on the Earth-facing side on the Russian segment of the International Space Station.

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“We do not know what the source of the stream of particles is. At this point there are discussions that are ongoing, first to make sure that the safety of the two spacewalkers is not compromised in any way. And then to determine what impact this might have, if any, on the integrity of the Soyuz vehicle.”

Currently, there are five other spacecrafts parked at the orbital lab- two SpaceX capsules (a Crew Dragon and Cargo Dragon), a Northrop Grumman Cygnus space freighter and two Russian resupply ships, Progress 81 and Progress 82.

The ISS spans 357 feet or 108 meters from end-to-end, about the length of a US football field, orbiting 250 miles above the Earth. The research station has been continuously occupied since 2000, is operated by a partnership led by the US and Russia, and includes Canada, Japan and 11 European countries.

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