On Thursday, Russian and NASA engineers were assessing a coolant leak from a Soyuz crew capsule docked with the International Space Station (ISS) that may have been caused by a micrometeorite attack.
The coolant leak forced last-minute cancellations of a spacewalk by two Russian cosmonauts on Wednesday and could potentially impact a return flight to Earth by three crew members.
Russian space company Roscosmos and the US space agency said the leak on the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft poses no danger to astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the ISS.
“Crew members aboard the space station are safe and were in no danger during the escape,” NASA said.
He said ground crews were evaluating “fluid and potential impacts on 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,” NASA said.
TASS news agency quoted Sergei Krikalev, a former cosmonaut who heads the manned spaceflight program for Roscosmos, as saying the leak may have been caused by a micrometeorite hitting Soyuz MS-22.
“The cause of the leak could be a micrometeorite entering the radiator,” Krikalev told TASS. “Possible consequences are changes in the temperature regime.”
“No other changes in the telemetry parameters of either the Soyuz spacecraft or the station (ISS) on the Russian or American segments were detected,” Krikalev said.
Soyuz MS-22 carried Russian cosmonauts Sergei Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio to the ISS in September.
They are expected to return to Earth in March, and another vessel is expected to be sent to the ISS if Soyuz MS-22 is not available.
Prokopyev and Petelin were preparing for a spacewalk on Wednesday when the leak was discovered.
“The crew reported that the vessel’s diagnostic system warning device was tripped, indicating a pressure drop in the cooling system,” Roscosmos said. “At the moment, all ISS and ship systems are functioning normally, the crew is safe.”
– White particles –
NASA said the leak occurred “at the aft end” of Soyuz MS-22, which is secured to the ISS.
Dramatic television images from NASA showed white snowflake-like particles streaming off the rear of the ship for hours.
There are currently four other astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the space station in addition to Rubio, Prokopyev and Petelin.
NASA astronauts Josh Cassada and Nicole Mann, Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata and Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina were flown to the ISS in October aboard a SpaceX spacecraft.
Space has been a rare avenue of cooperation between Moscow and Washington since the start of Moscow’s assault on Ukraine in February and the ensuing Western sanctions on Russia that have destroyed ties between the two countries.
The ISS was launched in 1998 at a time of heightened US-Russian cooperation following the Cold War’s competition for the space race.