The International Space Station is leaking ammonia coolant, according to NASA officials, who assured it poses no immediate danger to the orbiting lab’s crew.
The space station uses chilled liquid ammonia to cool down its massive power systems on its eight solar array panels. A minor leak of the liquid was first seen in 2007.
Since then, NASA has been studying the issue. Two astronauts took a space walk to fix the ammonia leak in November 2012. They repaired some coolant lines and installed a spare radiator over fears that the original radiator may have been damaged from a micrometeorite impact.
At the time, the ISS’s ammonia coolant leak appeared to be solved. However, astronauts on the massive space station noticed a steady stream of frozen ammonia leaking from the area of the suspect coolant loop on Thursday. The loop is located in the Photovoltaic Thermal Control System (PVTCS).
NASA spokesman Kelly Humphries of the Johnson Space Center in Houston explained, “It is in the same area, but we don’t know whether it’s the same leak.” Humphries added that NASA is taking the ammonia leak seriously, because the liquid is vital to the International Space Station’s operation.
Should the station lose its ability to cool that solar array, it will not be able to generate power for the station. The leak is bad enough that Mission Control expects that particular loop to be shut down in the next 24 hours. Despite this, Humphries stressed that “the crew is in no danger.” It is also too soon to speculate whether a spacewalk or other measure will be taken to deal with the issue.
Astronaut Doug Wheelock from Mission Control radioed to space station commander Chris Hadfield, a Canadian Space Agency astronaut on Thursday afternoon, saying, “What you guys have provided in the way of imagery and video has been just like gold to us on the ground. We are fairly confident that it’s coming from the vicinity of the TCS.”
NASA engineers are considering using the International Space Station’s robotic arm to get a closer look at the ammonia coolant leak on Friday.
[Image via NASA]