Russia is examining the possibility that a manufacturing defect caused two of its spacecraft to leak coolant within the recent two months.
On December 14, 2022, a spacecraft carrying a crewed Soyuz on the International Space Station (ISS) lost all of its coolant to space, a problem that Russian officials soon attributed to a possible micrometeor strike.
Then, on February 11, an automated Progress cargo ship on the International Space Station created its own leak. Roscosmos has it Linking this issue to “external influence”, (Opens in a new tab) Perhaps a problem occurred during the launch of the cargo ship in October 2022. But this is far from the final verdict. In fact, the back-to-back accidents have prompted Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, to take a closer look at the country’s spacecraft manufacturing operations, according to Joel Montalbano, International Space Station program manager at NASA.
Related: The hole in the leaking Soyuz spacecraft is not caused by the Geminid meteorite
Montalbano said Saturday night, during a news conference discussing the successful return to Earth of SpaceX’s Crew-5 astronaut mission, a few hours earlier. (Energia is the prime contractor for Russia’s human spaceflight program; the company is building both the Soyuz and Progress.)
“Is there something? Has something changed in the production of these vehicles?” he added. “Which is exactly what we’d do on our end, right? You look at all the data you have, you look at everything.”
Roscosmos has deemed the Soyuz, known as MS-22, unfit to carry its three crew members — NASA’s Frank Rubio and cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petlin — home to Earth, except in the case of an emergency evacuation to the International Space Station. So, last month, Russia launched a Soyuz replacement, MS-23, to the orbiting laboratory for the three spaceflights.
Montalbano said NASA is confident in the new Soyuz, but the agency will keep its eyes open for any new developments.
“Trust is good, but we’re always looking,” he said. “You know, this is what we do best in the space program. It’s done on the Roscosmos side as well as the NASA side.”
Related: Russia publishes the first pictures of the damage to the Soyuz spacecraft (photos)
Soyuz MS-22 carried Rubio, Prokopyev, and Beitlin to the International Space Station in September 2022. The trio was supposed to return to Earth this month, but the leak drama has pushed their return home to September.
This flight will take place on Soyuz MS-23. Meanwhile, MS-22 is scheduled to land later this month, in an uncrewed state. Unfortunately, the piece of spacecraft where the leak occurred will disintegrate during re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, Montalbano said, so engineers won’t be able to closely examine the damaged hardware.
The same is true of the leaked progress: A cargo ship left the International Space Station last month and met its fiery end in the thick air of our planet. (Progressive vehicles are expendable; they are not designed to survive re-entry.)
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