Cracks characterized as superficial by Russia have been discovered in the nation's portion of the International Space Station.
There's no word yet if these fissures in the Zarya module have caused, or will cause, any air leaks, though there is a concern they could widen.
“Several such places with non-perforating cracks were found in the Zarya module," Vladimir Solovyov, head of the Russian segment of the space station and a former cosmonaut, told the state-run news agency RIA Novosti this week.
"This is bad and suggests that the fissures will begin to spread over time."
Funded by the US and built by Russia over four years, Zarya was the first module launched for the space station. It lifted off in 1998, and was connected to the American Unity module that year to begin assembling the orbiting lab. In those early days, Zarya provided power and propulsion, and now is predominantly used for storage.
These latest cracks spell more bad news for Roscosmos. A small, non-life-threatening leak detected in 2019 was traced to a transfer chamber in its main Zvezda module, which was temporarily patched in October 2020 and repaired in March this year.
One or two other small leaks were subsequently detected, and it wasn't clear at the time where on the station they were. Last month, a drop in air pressure was detected in the Zvezda module due to a leak.
Now, there are apparently more cracks elsewhere in the Russian segment of the ISS for the crew to deal with. It's safe to say the station generally leaks a small amount of air all the time, which the crew compensates for.
“The cosmonauts covered the transition chamber of the Zvezda module twice, applied two kilograms of hermetal along all the seams, along the cracks – but the leak continues anyway,” Solovyov said in an interview with RIA Novosti. He said the chamber must remain closed to prevent air escaping.
Eventually these holes won’t be worth fixing anyway as the hardware components on the aged Zvezda section, which docked with the ISS 21 years ago, will be past their manufacturers' warranty period, he said. Instead, Solovyov believes Russia needs to start over and build its own space station. He is not alone in that thinking.
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”We have been warning for many years that it is time to think about a new orbital station," he said. "Funds have been allocated to ensure the operation of the station until 2025, but after 2025, we will be full of seams. This mainly concerns the tightness of the case and complex computing facilities that have exhausted their resource[s].”
Roscosmos has updated some of its hardware on the ISS: the Nauka module docked on July 29, and the hunk of metal, with a mass of 20,000 kilograms, made quite an entrance. Just three hours after it was attached to the science lab, its engines began unexpectedly firing, causing the ISS to spin one-and-a-half times before mission control corrected its position. ®