Russia has delayed the launch of a relief ship to the International Space Station (ISS) to investigate the cause of a recent air leak. On December 11th, the six astronauts aboard the ISS noticed a sudden decrease in air pressure and had to isolate the Russian segment of the station. The cause of the leak was initially believed to be a micrometeorite or other space debris that had damaged the station’s hull, but further investigation is needed to determine the exact cause.
Russian space agency chief Dmitry Rogozin announced that the Progress MS-09 cargo spaceship would be postponed until the cause of the leak is determined. The spaceship was scheduled to launch on December 20th and deliver supplies to the ISS. The mission would have been the first flight of the new Soyuz 2.1a rocket, designed primarily to carry Russian astronauts to the station.
Rogozin also revealed that a spacewalk is being considered to help investigate the cause of the leak. The spacewalk would involve cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and Sergey Prokopiev leaving the station to inspect its external hull for signs of damage. Exterior photos taken by the station’s Dextre robotic arm have revealed what appears to be a 2-millimeter (0.08-inch) hole in the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft that was docked with the station for the past five months.
It is not the first time the ISS has experienced a leak. In August 2018, the crew discovered a 1-millimeter (0.04-inch) hole caused by a Soyuz spacecraft manufacturing defect. The hole was plugged by epoxy resin, and the craft is expected to continue functioning until its planned undocking in December 2019.
The delay in Russia’s relief mission is expected to cause logistical issues for the station, as the supplies it was due to deliver are now running low. However, the team has assured the public that the astronauts have enough food and water to last several months and that the extra time given to investigate the leak is necessary to ensure the crew’s safety.
In the meantime, the Russian space agency has launched a criminal investigation into the incident and conducted an internal inquiry. The results of both investigations are expected to be published by the end of the month.