NASA has admitted that it’s still not found the source of a mysterious air leak in the International Space Station despite the frantic search now entering its third week.
The cabin breach disclosed on August 20 has forced the station’s three crew members into its Russian segment while the US space agency investigates.
NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Roscosmos cosmonauts Ivan Vagner and Anatoly Ivanishin are not said to be in danger as the search continues aboard the ISS, which orbits roughly 250 miles (400km) above Earth.
Investigators had said they wanted to solve the problem within a few days but have now admitted the search is “taking longer than expected”.
Nasa’s Daniel Huot told Business Insider on Tuesday that most of the station’s compartments had been ruled out as sources of the leak.
He added that the review should be completed “in the coming days.”
It follows a now-infamous incident two years ago in which a hole discovered on the International Space Station (ISS) was found to have been drilled from inside the spacecraft.
Investigators are said to have concluded that the breach was the result of a botched repair job carried out by Russian mechanics on Earth.
Nasa first spotted signs of the newly disclosed cabin breach in September 2019.
The ISS regularly leaks tiny amounts of air, but not quite as much as is escaping now.
ISS crew have spent two weeks in the Zvezda service module having closed the hatches on the US section of the orbiting space lab.
Investigators are attempting to identify the source of the leak by studying data from the station’s various modules.
“The teams are working on a plan to isolate, identify, and potentially repair the source,” Nasa said last month.
If specialists can’t identify the source of the leak, they’ll have to come up with a new plan, NASA investigator Huot told Business Insider.
NASA and Russian space agency Roscosmos have stressed that neither the crew nor the space station are believed to be in jeopardy.
The last major air leak on the station was discovered two years ago and sparked a rare public war of words between NASA and Roscosmos.
A drop in pressure led to the identification of a hole in a Russian Soyuz capsule attached to the orbital station overnight on August 30, 2018.
The station crew quickly patched the breach by plugging it with strong glue and gauze.
Initially it was thought the damage could have been caused by a micrometeorite piercing the spacecraft.
But in September 2018 a space source speaking to Russia’s official Tass news agency claimed that signs of drilling had been found around the hole.
Russia’s space agency head Dmitry Rogozin — a close ally of Vladimir Putin — then raised the possibility of sabotage.
He said the hole was made by a drill, either while the capsule was on Earth or in space, by someone with a “wavering hand”.
NASA then issued a counter statement arguing that ruling out defects “does not necessarily mean the hole was created intentionally or with mal-intent”.
Then-ISS commander Alexander Gerst later confirmed the hole was the result of a faulty repair job that was inadequately performed by mechanics on the ground.
A formal Russian investigation concluded in September 2019 but the results are top-secret, with even NASA boss Jim Bridenstine expressing frustration at being kept out of the loop.