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NASA announces breakthrough in search for space station air leak

The search for an air leak on board the International Space Station should be close to an end.

NASA revealed on Tuesday, September 30 that it has managed to isolate the location of the leak to the main work area of Russia’s Zvezda service module. Additional work is now underway to find the precise spot so that it can finally be fixed.

The space agency has been keen to point out that the leak, which was first noticed 12 months ago, poses no risk to the three astronauts on board the ISS, or to the integrity of the space station itself. However, a recent increase in the rate of the leak prompted NASA and its Russian counterpart, Roscosmos, to make a more concerted effort to track down the source of the problem.

The work, which took place on two weekends over the last five weeks, involved sending the current inhabitants of the ISS — NASA’s Chris Cassidy and Roscosmos’s Ivan Vagner and Anatoly Ivanishin — to isolate themselves in a specific section of the outpost so that specialists on the ground could conduct pressurization tests throughout the station.

Both attempts failed to find the source of the leak, most likely because the safe space in which the astronauts waited during the pressurization tests is precisely the place where the leak has now been identified — the Zvezda service module.

The breakthrough discovery came late Monday after ground controllers believed the air leak was suddenly increasing in size, although this turned out not to be the case. The incident prompted the controllers to wake up the three astronauts to ask them to conduct urgent searches using ultrasonic leak detectors. It was then that the leak was traced to the Russian module.

“Throughout the night, pressure measurements were taken by U.S. and Russian specialists to try to isolate the source of the leak,” NASA said in a report on the incident. “Ground analysis of the modules tested overnight have isolated the leak location to the main work area of the Zvezda service module.”

Once the checks were done, the crew reopened the hatches between the U.S. and Russian segments and resumed regular activities.

With October a busy month in terms of cargo and crew arrivals, NASA and Roscosmos specialists are hoping to finally fix the air leak in the coming days.

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