What happened to the Soyuz capsule docked at the International Space Station and why the liquid leak is dangerous

Soyuz issues damage
Credit: NASATV

it’s a 4 in the morning Italian December 15th. Russian cosmonauts Dmitry Petlin And the Sergey Prokopiev Located in the airlock of International Space Station (iss). They are preparing to perform a planned EVA, in which they were supposed to take place European robotic arm from the space station. But suddenly, the two astronauts noticed something strange. Something they definitely don’t want to see.

Russian capsule Soyuz MS-22with which the two astronauts arrived at the International Space Station with the American in September Francisco RubioCoolant was leaking profusely into space. Naturally, the EVA was canceled and inspection work began to understand the cause and severity of the damage. Let’s reconstruct what we know for sure about one of them at the moment An absolutely unprecedented situation In more than twenty years of the history of the International Space Station.

Soyuz refrigerant leak

Coolant leaks from the Soyuz MS-22 capsule (from: NASA TV).

Before Petelin and Prokopiev can notice the loss, the spacecraft Send an alert For control centers in Moscow and the USA. The warning was due to a Ultra low pressure in the nacelle cooling circuit. Ended up spilling around 8 in the morning: It is believed that the capsule has lost all refrigerant. NASA has announce that loss It does not involve any risks To the ISS crew: No astronauts were exposed to coolant and operations at our orbital location continued as planned.

Once the leak cleared, the European robotic arm that Petlin and Prokopyev were supposed to work on during their EVA was extended. Check the leak and produce images to be sent ashore for initial analysis. the December 18th The Canadian robotic arm has also been activated, Canada. The data for this latest examination had identified a gap 0.8 mm which could be the site of damage.

Europa’s robotic arm inspects Soyuz MS22 damage (Credit: NASA Television).

according to communication Russian Space Agency Roscosmosdo not exceed the current internal temperature of the carrycot 30 degrees Celsius Despite damage to the cooling system, it never exceeded 40 degrees Celsius. These are values ​​that are beyond the norm, but still within acceptable limits. This means that the capsule is still technically working.
analyzes performed to date They did not show any other malfunctions spacecraft plus loss.

The most likely cause

according to communication revealed by the Russian news agency TASS, that the most likely cause of the damage may be a micrometer that impacted the spacecraft at a point where it was unprotected, causing a tube in the capsule’s cooling system to rupture. The micrometeorite in question could belong to the meteor shower Gemini, whose peak falls between December 13th and 14th. An alternative hypothesis could be a small artificial wreck, or rather a small piece of it space junk (“Space Junk”).

These hypotheses can be confirmed once we obtain detailed images of the impact. By comparing the images with the appropriate simulations, it will be possible to trace the actual cause.

Because this situation is dangerous

The problem is not limited to the Soyuz spacecraft alone, however It extends to the entire International Space Station And his crew, present and future. Indeed, according to the plans, Soyuz MS-22 should return Petelin, Prokopiev and Rubio to Earth March 28, 2023. The problem is that even after determining the cause of the leak and the extent of the damage, the capsule may not be able to safely make the trip to Earth. So the problem arises How will the three astronauts return home.

Soyuz MS-22 capsule (from: NASA).

There is another, no less serious problem. The capsules docked at the International Space Station are not there for show, but they do function as real capsules Lifeboats In the event that there is a need to evacuate the International Space Station for various reasons. With MS-22 out of business, for now There are not enough capsules Docked at the International Space Station to transport all astronauts out of the station in case of danger or need. at the moment There is no need for evacuation An emergency situation, but if such a need arises in the coming weeks, it is only natural that it will be a real problem.

How can the problem be solved

If analyzes show that MS-22 is unsuitable for the astronauts’ return flight (which is the situation it currently represents The worst case scenario), one option might be to send another Soyuz from Earth to the International Space Station. Roscosmos has the spacecraft at its disposal Soyuz MS-23, which was supposed to arrive at the space station in March with three other astronauts on board. The spacecraft has not yet completed all the necessary tests before launching and traveling to the International Space Station, but according to Roscosmos, it could be ready in no less than 45 days.

This spacecraft can travel unmanned and dock to the space station in a completely automatic manner, but for safety reasons it is considered to send at least one person on board the capsule so that there are no errors in the docking phase. This though That would spoil the crew’s turnover On the Space Station: Sending MS-23 into orbit so prematurely, in fact, that an alternative means of getting the next crew astronauts to the International Space Station would be necessary.

At the moment, Roscosmos and NASA are working closely to examine the situation and find the best solution. One has already been created special commission It in the next few days (within end of December) will listen to the results of the working groups currently working and decide Action Plan for the next few months.

Maggie Benson

"Bacon trailblazer. Certified coffee maven. Zombie lover. Tv specialist. Freelance communicator."

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