Russian Nauka Module Faces ISS Leak Concerns

The International Space Station (ISS) has encountered another leak, with the Russian Nauka module suspected as the source. This leak appears to involve coolant from a backup radiator on the Nauka module.

Flight controllers first noticed flakes from one of the Nauka radiators using cameras aboard the orbiting laboratory. The crew was then directed to investigate, and NASA astronaut Jasmin Moghbeli confirmed the issue from the windows of the Cupola module. As a precaution, window shutters on the US segment of the ISS were closed to prevent any potential contamination, although the crew is not in any immediate danger. The challenge lies in addressing the problem and restoring redundancy, as losing the backup radiator is less than ideal.

According to the Russian space agency Roscosmos, the leak is indeed originating from Nauka’s backup radiator, which is externally mounted on the module. This radiator was delivered during one of the final Space Shuttle missions in 2010 and was initially placed on the Rassvet module, later relocated to Nauka during a Roscosmos spacewalk in April.

This incident follows a previous coolant leak observed during a Roscosmos spacewalk in December 2022 when a radiator had to be relocated from a docked Russian Soyuz vehicle. As a result, the ISS crew had to extend their stay while awaiting a replacement vehicle. In February 2023, an uncrewed Progress cargo spacecraft also experienced a coolant leak.

Russian authorities had previously attributed their spacecraft’s leaks to micrometeoroid or orbital debris impacts rather than design or manufacturing issues. It remains to be seen what explanation they will provide this time. It’s worth noting that the Nauka Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM) has faced numerous challenges during its orbital existence. In addition to considerable delays, it caused a bit of chaos when it unexpectedly fired its thrusters after arriving at the ISS in 2021.

NASA has scheduled two spacewalks in October, with the first involving ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen. Whether these spacewalks proceed as planned in light of the recent leak remains uncertain.

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