The ISS is constantly losing a tiny amount of air each day, but recently NASA has noted the space station has been losing a lot more than normal. Orbiting more than 400 kilometres above Earth’s surface, the ISS needs a constant supply of fresh oxygen. However, when the ship begins to lose oxygen – more so than it normally does – it becomes a cause for concern.
As a result, NASA’s Chris Cassidy and his Russian crew-mates Ivan Vagner and Anatoly Ivanishin will spend the weekend inside the orbiting lab’s Russian segment.
This will allow mission control to hopefully locate the source of the leak.
They will do this by increasing pressure in certain sections of the ISS, and monitoring how stable the oxygen levels remain.
NASA said in a blog: “The station’s atmosphere is maintained at pressure comfortable for the crew members, and a tiny bit of that air leaks over time, requiring routine repressurisation from nitrogen tanks delivered on cargo resupply missions.
“In September 2019, NASA and its international partners first saw indications of a slight increase above the standard cabin air leak rate.
“Because of routine station operations like spacewalks and spacecraft arrivals and departures, it took time to gather enough data to characterise those measurements.
“That rate has slightly increased, so the teams are working a plan to isolate, identify, and potentially repair the source.
“The leak is still within segment specifications and presents no immediate danger to the crew or the space station.
“All the space station hatches will be closed this weekend so mission controllers can carefully monitor the air pressure in each module.”
The last time a major leak came was in 2018, which was somewhat mysterious and sparked a mini-war of words between NASA and Roscosmos, the Russian space agency.
On August 29, 2018, astronauts on the ISS awoke to discover a leak on the space station was causing it to lose oxygen.
The six people on the ISS hurried to find the minute hole on the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft – the shuttle which ferried Russian astronauts to the ISS, and was ultimately docked there – before they ran out of air.
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It was originally thought the leak, which was quickly discovered and sealed, was caused by a tiny meteor which hit the ISS.
However, an investigation from Roscosmos revealed shortly after the incident that was not the case.
Over the ensuing year, the discussion around the incident went quiet.
Now Roscosmos bosses have re-opened the dialogue, but they are teasing NASA with the secret.
Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Roscosmos, revealed an investigation has determined the course of the two millimetre hole – but the space agency is not giving up its secrets.
Mr Rogozin told a youth science conference: “The hole was in the living quarters of the capsule, it has long since burned up upon reentry. We took all the samples.
“We know exactly what happened, but we won’t tell you anything.
“We do need to retain some sort of secrecy.”
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