International Space Station

The International Space Station’s Air Leaks are Increasing. No Danger to the Crew

Only the other week I had to fix my leaky tap. That was a nightmare.  I cannot begin to imagine how you deal with a leaky spacecraft! In August 2020 Russia announced that their Zvezda module had an air leak. An attempt was make to fix it but in November 2021 another leak was found. Earlier this week, Russia announced the segment is continuing to leak but the crew are in no danger. 

It’s amazing to think that the International Space Station that has graced many a night sky, was launched back in 1998. A wonderful piece of international co-operation between US, Russia, Canada, Japan and the countries of the European Space Agency, it has been orbiting Earth ever since providing a ‘zero gravity’ laboratory for research into all manner of things. Orbiting at an altitude of about 400 km it comprises 16 pressurised modules that have supported research in the fields of biology, physics, engineering and astronomy. 

The Zvezda module (whose name means star) was the third module to be launched to the station and provides all of the life support systems which are supplemented by the US Orbital Segment and the living quarters. The main structure of the module was built in the mid-1980’s to be destined for the Mir Space Station. It consists of a cylindrical ‘work compartment’ for the crew to live and work and its this which is the main bulk of the module. There is a smaller spherical Transfer Compartment at the front end and a cylindrical Transfer Chamber to the rear. These two Transfer units provide the capability to connect the module with other modules of the station.  The Transfer Chamber is surrounded by the Assembly Compartment which is unpressurised and home to thrusters, antennae, thermometers and propellant tanks. 

A diagram showing the on-orbit configuration of the Zvezda Service Module of the International Space Station. Credit – NASA

Russian officials have stated that specialists are engaged in monitoring the leas in the Zvezda module and the crew regularly conduct work to locate and fix possible leaks.  They do stress however that there is no threat to the crew or station. 

If that wasn’t enough to worry any of the inhabitants (and I’m sure they must be a little concerned) the officials went on to report that the leaks in the module have increased but operations are not currently at threat. This is off the back of the leaks identified and fixed in 2020 and 2021. It’s not just air leaks either; there have been coolant leaks from the external backup radiator, coolant leaks from the Russian Soyuz spacecraft docked at ISS and even leaks from the Progress supply ship in February 2023.

Whilst some of the leaks have been attributed to damage from tiny micrometeoroid impacts, the station is getting old now and maintenance and repair tasks seem to be on the increase. 

Source : Russian space officials say air leak at International Space Station poses no danger to its crew

Mark Thompson

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