A Leak on the International Space Station Is Growing, but It Poses No Threat to Crews, NASA Says

The leak, which is at the end of a Russian service module, will not affect the upcoming launch of Crew-8 to the station

Four astronauts in space suits
NASA SpaceX's Crew-8 from left to right: Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Grebenkin and NASA astronauts Michael Barratt, Matthew Dominick and Jeanette Epps. Set to launch to the ISS on Saturday, the crew will not be impacted by the leak, NASA says. SpaceX / NASA

A small leak on the International Space Station (ISS), located at the rear end of the Russian service module, began releasing air more quickly in early February, NASA said at a news conference on Wednesday.

“The teams are watching it, we’re working with our Russian colleagues on the next step,” Joel Montalbano, the ISS program manager, said at the conference, which comes days ahead of a mission set to launch more crew members to the station. “Not an impact right now to crew safety or vehicle operations, but something for everybody to be aware of.”

The United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada work together to provide and operate the elements of the ISS. Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, said in a statement that specialists are monitoring the leak, and “there is no threat to the crew or the station itself,” the Associated Press (AP) reports.

While the leak used to be releasing about a pound of air each day, that rate increased to a little over two pounds a day in early February, roughly a week before the unpiloted Progress 87 cargo mission launched to the ISS on February 14 and docked on February 17.

The leak is in Russia’s Zvezda service module, in a vestibule between the port where the Progress spacecraft docks and the rest of the module, writes Space News’ Jeff Foust. The area can be sealed off to mitigate air loss from the rest of the station.

For about 24 hours after Progress docked, the hatch on the module was kept closed to see if anything changed, Montalbano said Wednesday. Since nothing changed, Russian cosmonauts entered and emptied most of Progress’ cargo for about five days before closing the hatch again. The hatch will remain shut until early April.

Russia first reported a leak in the Zvezda module in August 2020 and tried to seal it temporarily. Then, the nation reported a leak in a different part of its section of the ISS in November 2021, per the AP. Roscosmos had said in January 2022 that it identified the “last air leak” in the module and would fix it, writes Business Insider’s Matthew Loh.

The area of the module where the leak is now occurring is about three feet long. “We’ve been watching this for a while,” Montalbano said. “This area has had some leaks. In fact, we’ve repaired a couple cracks in that module part, and we’ve done some other areas of interest, so we’re continuing to watch that.”

“When we closed that hatch, the rest of the space station … is solid,” Montalbano said.

A launch currently planned for 11:16 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday will send Crew-8—a group of three NASA astronauts and a Russian cosmonaut—to the ISS, after their original Friday launch date was pushed back due to poor weather. The current Crew-7 will return to Earth in the days following Crew-8’s arrival, and Crew-8 will remain at the space station until late August, conducting experiments and research.

The leak is “not an impact to Crew-8,” Montalbano said at the conference. NASA is working with its Russian colleagues on next steps for addressing the leak.

Last year, Russia had to launch an additional spacecraft to the ISS to retrieve astronauts, after their original ride home experienced a coolant leak.

The ISS has been continuously occupied since 2000. Now, Russia has announced its intention to leave the space station by 2028 and build its own station in orbit. NASA wants to continue to use the ISS through 2030, but the Russian modules, which include the propulsion system, are essential for it to function. Eventually, the American space agency intends to transition to commercially owned space stations to host its research and development.

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