In orbit for 22 years and 9 months, it is natural that the International Space Station (ISS) begins to show some signs of “tiredness”. A report made by the agency Reuters in Moscow on Monday (30) revealed that Russian cosmonauts have discovered new cracks, which could be a sign that the orbital lab is nearing the end of its cycle.
Speaking to the news agency RIA Novosti, the chief engineer of the Russian space program controller, Vladimir Solovyov explained that the “surface cracks were found in some places in the Zarya module”. According to the Energy executive, “this is bad and suggests that the cracks will start to spread over time.”
Solovyov did not specify, however, whether the cracks caused some sort of air leak, such as the one discovered in September last year, in the Russian segment of the ISS. The discovery of cracks confirms an earlier pronouncement by the former astronaut that much of the ISS’s equipment is beginning to age. According to him, there may be a real “avalanche” of broken equipment after 2025.
Astronauts seek leak outside ISS (Source: NASA/Reproduction)Source: NASA
The first module of the International Space Station to be launched was the Zarya, in 1998, two years before the laboratory began operations. At the time, the segment that is now called the Functional Cargo Block (FGB) provided storage space, propulsion and electrical power for the rest of the station during its initial assembly stages.
Almost 23 years later, the ISS has suffered several incidents in recent days. Last month, for example, Russian authorities revealed that a software flaw, and possible human error, were responsible for throwing the station out of control. Russian research module Nauka had its jet thrusters turned on by mistake, causing the entire lab, with its seven crew, to momentarily drop out of orbit.
Russia has already expressed its intention to launch a new orbital space station of its own, which should take place in 2025, a year after international agreements on the operation of the ISS expire. Although there is still no explicit directive on the station’s vacancy, a Roscosmos employee assured the AFP in April that, as soon as a decision is taken, negotiations will begin “on forms and conditions of cooperation after 2024”.
It appears that, with the retirement of the ISS, a fruitful era of international collaboration in space will also be drawing to a close. After turning down a partnership on the future US Gateway Lunar Orbital Station, Russia decided to close a deal with China in June to build a future International Lunar Research Station (ILRS).