Friday, May 10, 2013

NASA: Space Station Leaking Vital Ammonia Coolant - Video

Droplets of liquid are seen floating out the the International Space Station on May 10th, 2013. The leak is emanating from the station's P6 truss.

Astronauts on the International Space Station have discovered a leak of ammonia coolant on their orbiting habitat, and NASA is looking into the problem, though it poses no immediate danger to the crew, officials said today (May 9).

The space station uses chilled liquid ammonia to cool down the power systems on its eight giant solar array panels. A minor leak of this ammonia was first noticed in 2007, and NASA has been studying the issue ever since.

In November 2012 two astronauts took a spacewalk to fix the problem, rewiring some coolant lines and installing a spare radiator due to fears the original radiator was damaged by a micrometeorite impact.

At the time, those measures appeared to fix the problem, but today astronauts on the football field-size space station noticed a steady stream of frozen ammonia flakes leaking from the area of the suspect coolant loop in the Photovoltaic Thermal Control System (PVTCS).

Kelly Humphries
"It is in the same area, but we don't know whether it's the same leak," NASA spokesman Kelly Humphries of the Johnson Space Center in Houston reported.

Humphries said the agency was taking the leak seriously because it affects an important system — if they lose the ability to cool that particular solar array, it won't be able to generate power for the station.

In fact, the leak has worsened to the point that Mission Control expects that particular loop to shut down within the next 24 hours.

However, "the crew is in no danger," Humphries stressed. It's too soon to speculate on a possible spacewalk or other measure to deal with the issue, he added.

Mission Control has been discussing the problem with the astronauts on the station throughout the afternoon.

Chris Hadfield on ISS
"What you guys have provided in the way of imagery and video has been just like gold to us on the ground," astronaut Doug Wheelock from Mission Control radioed to space station commander Chris Hadfield, a Canadian Space Agency astronaut.

"We are fairly confident that it's coming from the vicinity of the aTCS."

However, flight contollers noted they were still unable to pinpoint the leak's exact location.

NASA engineers are reviewing plans to potentially move the station's robotic arm over to the area of the port truss, the scaffolding-like backbone of the station (the original leak was traced to the Port 6 truss).

"Tomorrow we'll plan to get the arm in the game to see if we can better pinpoint the location of the leak," Wheelock said.

Hadfield said he and his crewmates had noticed the rate of the leak varied depending on the orientation of the station with the sun, suggesting particular angles allowed the ammonia coolant to leak more quickly.

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