Russian space capsule leak likely due to micrometeorite strike, official says

A coolant leak detected from the aft end of the Russian space capsule docked to the International Space Station was likely caused by a micrometeorite strike, according to a Russian space official. 

Sergei Krikalev, a veteran cosmonaut who serves as the director of crewed space flight programs at Roscosmos, said Thursday that a meteorite striking one of the radiators of the Soyuz MS-22 capsule could have caused the coolant to escape.

Krikalev said in a statement that the malfunction could affect the performance of the capsule’s coolant system and the temperature in the equipment section of the capsule.

Roscosmos and NASA have both said that the incident had not posed any danger to the station’s crew. 

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“There have been no other changes in parameters on the Soyuz spacecraft and the station, so there is no threat for the crew,” he said.

This undated handout photo taken by Russian cosmonaut Sergei Korsakov and released by Roscosmos State Space Corporation shows a Soyuz capsule of the International Space Station (ISS) during its fly.
((Sergei Korsakov, Roscosmos State Space Corporation via AP))

The leak, however, forced the cancellation of a planned spacewalk for Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin.

Ground specialists saw a stream of fluid and particles on a live video feed from space, as well as a pressure drop on instruments. 

“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 wrote in a blog post. 

This undated handout photo released by Roscosmos State Space Corporation on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022 shows the International Space Station (ISS) during its fly. 

This undated handout photo released by Roscosmos State Space Corporation on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022 shows the International Space Station (ISS) during its fly. 
((Roscosmos State Space Corporation via AP))

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

The Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft carried NASA astronaut Frank Rubio and Prokopyev and Petelin into space after launching from Kazakhstan on Sept. 21.

It serves as a lifeboat for the crew. 

The European robotic arm controlled by cosmonaut Anna Kikina surveys the Soyuz MS-22 crew ship after the detection of a leak that canceled Wednesday’s spacewalk. 

The European robotic arm controlled by cosmonaut Anna Kikina surveys the Soyuz MS-22 crew ship after the detection of a leak that canceled Wednesday’s spacewalk. 
(Credit: NASA TV)

Along with Prokopyev, Petelin and Rubio, four other crew members are currently on the space outpost: NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Koichi Wakata and Anna Kikina of Roscosmos.

Krikalev said the station’s future operations would depend on an assessment of the capsule’s condition. 

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“Decisions about the future flight program will be made on the basis of that analysis,” he said.

In November, the James Webb Space Telescope team announced that it would adjust its observation strategy to avoid its mirror being struck by the tiny space rocks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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