NASA reports that over the weekend, Russia disposed of a leaky supply ship stationed at the International Space Station by allowing it to burn up over the Pacific Ocean.
Management at Russia’s space agency Roscosmos opted to use an engine burn to bring the Progress 82 cargo spaceship back to Earth late Saturday night. They arrived at this conclusion after undocking the ship the day before to investigate the source of the coolant leak: the radiator. The abandoned spaceship was not carrying any astronauts because it was not designed to carry passengers. Wasteful, according to NASA’s assessment (Opens in a new tab).
The disposal came after a depressurization alert was received on board the spacecraft on February 11(Opens in a new tab), making it the second Russian spacecraft to develop a leak at the space station in as many months. In December of 2022, three crew members were stranded after a coolant leak in a Soyuz human transport capsule.
UPDATED: Thursday, February 22, 2023, 11:29 AM EST Roscosmos, after inspecting the cargo ship from space and before it sank in the ocean, determined that the leak was not the result of a manufacturing defect but rather external damage. Russian space officials intend to launch a new passenger spaceship on Thursday, February 24. This will provide the three stranded crew members with a fresh return ride home. Soyuz MS-23, a brand new spacecraft, is scheduled to arrive at the ISS this next weekend. The astronaut and two cosmonauts were supposed to return home in May, but the change in spacecraft means they won’t be able to until September. NASA has said it is working “in tandem” with the Russians to evaluate the leaked photographs and data.
Russian and US space officials concluded from their analysis of the initial leak that a micrometeoroid no bigger than a sharpened pencil tip had punctured the hull. The live footage shows coolant leaking into space, which was meant to maintain a reasonable temperature within the cabin.
Jeff Arend, manager of NASA’s space station engineering office, said at a news conference on Friday that “the entire NASA and Roscosmos team has continued to work together to identify the origin of this incident,” and that the investigation would continue. As they say, “Much will become clear in the coming days.”
Each organisation had already concluded that the crew capsule’s leaks made it too dangerous to return three men in it. The original plan called for NASA astronaut Frank Rubio(Opens in a new tab) and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin to spend just six months aboard the orbiting laboratory before returning to Earth in March 2023.
Despite geopolitical tensions between Russia and the United States and the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the space agencies of both countries have maintained their close cooperation on the International Space Station.
The manager of NASA’s space station programme said in January that the crew was pleased to be conducting research in space and ready to stay for a year if required despite the fact that their return transportation was still TBA.
“I might have to bring in some more ice cream to fly as a reward for them,” he remarked.
Space authorities from the United States were asked how likely it was that two spacecraft would sustain the same damage on the same part from space debris at a NASA news briefing on Tuesday evening. NASA manager for space station crew Dana Hutcherson said she didn’t buy Roscosmos’ explanation that a meteorite hit and triggered the second leak.
They want to know “whether there are any indicators or signatures that anywhere along the spacecraft voyage, whether it be launch or launch vehicle separation, there is some other external influence or damage that could have occurred that could have been a factor there,” she said.