from the laika dept.
Last week, a pressure leak occurred on the International Space Station. It was slow and posed no immediate threat to the crew, with the atmosphere leaving the station at a rate such that depressurization of the station would have taken 14 days.
Eventually, US and Russian crew members traced the leak to a 2mm breach in the orbital module of the Soyuz MS-09 vehicle that had flown to the space station in June. The module had carried Russian cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev, European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst, and NASA's Serena M. Auñón-Chancellor.
[...] The drama might have ended there, as it was initially presumed that the breach had been caused by a tiny bit of orbital debris. However, recent Russian news reports have shown that the problem was, in fact, a manufacturing defect. It remains unclear whether the hole was an accidental error or intentional. There is evidence that a technician saw the drilling mistake and covered the hole with glue, which prevented the problem from being detected during a vacuum test.
As you may recall, a low-pressure leak occurred aboard the International Space Station in late August. Eventually the crews traced the leak to the orbital module of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft that had arrived at the station in June. After the problem was traced to what appears to be a manufacturing defect, the head of Russia's space program essentially called for the head of whoever made the error. Now, however, something entirely new is afoot in Russia. A growing number of Russian publications have been putting forth an absurd new theory—that a NASA astronaut deliberately caused the leak on board the station in order to force the evacuation of a sick crew member. The story has spread like wildfire during the last 24 hours, according to Robinson Mitchell, who translates Russian space stories for Ars.
One of the most prominent articles was published Wednesday in Kommersant, which says Russian investigators are vigorously pursuing the claim that Americans may have damaged the Soyuz deliberately. Publicly, Roscosmos leader Dmitry Rogozin was quoted as saying about Russia's investigation into the leak, "Results we have received do not give us an objective picture. The situation is much more complex than we earlier thought." Privately, however, several sources from the space agency are leaking much juicier comments to the Russian media. "Our Soyuz is next to the Rassvet (Dawn) module, right next to the hatch into the American segment of the station," one source told Kommersant. "Access to our ship is possible only with the permission of our commander, but we cannot exclude an unsanctioned access by the Americans."
A thorough Russian investigation of a leak that occurred in August in the orbital module of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, which is attached to the International Space Station, will not be completed until November. But this week, the head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos reignited controversy about the leak with some comments during a television appearance.
A preliminary investigation, according to Russia's chief spaceflight official, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, "concluded that a manufacturing defect had been ruled out which is important to establish the truth." So if it wasn't a manufacturing defect, then what was it? As Rogozin did not say, this re-fueled speculation in some media reports that the hole was intentionally drilled by NASA astronauts in space. This theory is nonsensical, but it appears to play well to Russian audiences.
After these latest comments and with an imminent Soyuz spacecraft launch on October 11 that will carry NASA astronaut Nick Hague to the International Space Station, the US space agency felt the need to put out a new statement on Wednesday. It reads:
On Aug. 29, 2018 a small hole was discovered on the International Space Station. This resulted in a pressure leak. The hole has been identified and fixed by space station crew.
Russian media recently reported that General Director Rogozin said the hole was not a manufacturing defect. Ruling out a manufacturing defect indicates that this is an isolated issue which does not categorically affect future production.
This conclusion does not necessarily mean the hole was created intentionally or with mal-intent. NASA and Roscosmos are both investigating the incident to determine the cause. The International Space Station Program is tentatively planning a spacewalk in November to gather more information.
On October 11, American Astronaut Nick Hague and Russian Cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin will launch to the International Space Station on a Russian Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Administrator Bridenstine is scheduled to attend the launch and plans to meet with Mr. Rogozin. This will be their first in-person meeting. They had a telephone call on September 12 during which they discussed the International Space Station leak.
The American incentives for engaging with Russia in space in the 1990s — political goals like the employment of idle rocket scientists to prevent missile proliferation — have mostly disappeared with the resumption of tensions. The Trump administration has already proposed that by 2025 the United States should stop supporting the International Space Station that is the principal joint project today. A final decision is up to Congress. The American role might be shifted to a commercial footing thereafter.
[...] [It] is unclear how much longer the post-Soviet era of space cooperation between the United States and Russia can last in the more hostile environment now surrounding relations. In the interview, [Dmitri O. Rogozin, the director of Russia's space agency,] said Russia wanted to carry on joint flights with the United States and its allies, despite the tensions over election interference, wars in Syria and Ukraine, and the chemical weapons poisoning of a former double agent in Britain.
[...] Analysts say Moscow has a strong incentive to maintain the joint program: a decided lack of money to pursue a lunar station on its own. Russia's budget for its space program is something less than one-10th what the United States spends on NASA. [...] Russia's preference is to press on with a space program entwined with the United States', on either the lunar program or another venture, Mr. Rogozin said. But if talks fail, Russia can turn to China or India for partnership. There might then be two stations circling the Earth or the moon, one led by the United States the other a Russian-Chinese enterprise. Mr. Rogozin even floated the idea of a "BRIC station," the acronym for the developing economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China.
Mr. Rogozin in November ordered the Russian Academy of Sciences to study the prospects for a solo Russian program to build a habitable base on the surface of the moon. Ivan M. Moiseyev, the director of the Institute of Space Policy in Moscow, said in a telephone interview that any proposal for a lone Russian lunar station was fantastical, given the budget constraints. "The technical capability exists, but the finances don't."
The U.S. and NASA could develop stronger partnerships with the European Space Agency, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and Indian Space Research Organisation instead.
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NASA and Roscosmos Sign Joint Statement on the Development of a Lunar Space Station
Russia Assembles Engineering Group for Lunar Activities and the Deep Space Gateway
Russian Space Chief Vows to Find "Full Name" of Technician Who Caused ISS Leak
NASA and Roscosmos Release Joint Statement on ISS Leak Amid Rumors
Head of Russian Space Agency Roscosmos Wavers on Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway
Soyuz Rocket Carrying Crew Successfully Launches and Docks with ISS
Related: Price War Between SpaceX and Russia
Two Russian cosmonauts have removed samples from a Soyuz spacecraft docked at the International Space Station during a spacewalk. They used knives and shears to cut around the now-sealed 2mm hole in the Soyuz MS-09:
Expedition 57 flight engineers Oleg Kononenko and Sergey Prokopyev of the Russian federal space agency Roscosmos conducted the 7-hour and 45-minute spacewalk. The two cosmonauts worked on the exterior of the Russian Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft, where the space station's crew had earlier found and repaired the leak from the inside.
[...] Today, Prokopyev joined Kononenko on a spacewalk to inspect the repair area from the outside in an effort to discover what caused the leak and to collect a sample of the epoxy that had extruded through the hole from the inside. To reach the area needed to perform the inspection, Kononenko rode at the end of two Russian Strela booms, translating from the Pirs docking compartment where the spacewalk began to the Zarya functional cargo block (FGB) and then up alongside the Soyuz. Prokopyev controlled the booms' motion from the opposite end, moving Kononenko into place, before shimmying up the second boom himself.
At the worksite, Kononenko and Prokopyev took turns using a knife and a pair of long-arm scissors to stab at and cut away layers of brown, gold and silvery insulation. As they cut into the spacecraft, small fragments of the material floated away and formed a cloud of debris. The two cosmonauts then used the same tools to cut into and peel away a thin metal orbital debris shield to expose the hole in the Soyuz MS-09's orbital compartment. [...] Kononenko used a pair of forceps and a swab to collect samples of the dark epoxy. The residue, stowed inside a bag, was brought back inside the space station and will be returned to Earth for analysis.
Also at BBC.
Previously: Russian Space Chief Vows to Find "Full Name" of Technician Who Caused ISS Leak
NASA and Roscosmos Release Joint Statement on ISS Leak Amid Rumors
Controversy Over ISS Leak Continues, Spacewalk Planned for November
Russia's state-owned news service, TASS, has published an extraordinarily defamatory article about NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor. The publication claims that Auñón-Chancellor had an emotional breakdown in space, then damaged a Russian spacecraft in order to return early. This, of course, is a complete fabrication.
The context for the article is the recent, near-disastrous docking of the Russian Nauka science module with the International Space Station. The TASS article attempts to rebut criticism in US publications (including Ars Technica) that covered the incident and raised questions about the future of the Roscosmos-NASA partnership in space.
One of a dozen rebuttals in the TASS article concerns a 2018 incident—a 2 mm breach in the orbital module of the Soyuz MS-09 vehicle docked with the International Space Station. Russian cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev, European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst, and NASA's Auñón-Chancellor had flown to the station inside this Soyuz in June. The leak was discovered in late August.
(2020-09-05) Source of International Space Station Leak Still Not Found, NASA Says
(2018-12-13) Cosmonauts Cut Into Soyuz Docked at the ISS During Nearly 8-Hour Spacewalk
(2018-11-03) Roscosmos Completes Investigation into October Soyuz Failure, Finds Assembly Issue
(2018-10-03) Controversy Over ISS Leak Continues, Spacewalk Planned for November
(2018-09-14) NASA and Roscosmos Release Joint Statement on ISS Leak Amid Rumors
(2018-09-06) Russian Space Chief Vows to Find "Full Name" of Technician Who Caused ISS Leak