ISS: Space station's cooling system leaking ammonia

ISS Commander Chris Hadfield describes "a very steady stream of flakes"

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Astronauts on the International Space Station are dealing with a leak in the orbiting platform's cooling system.

The crew spotted particles of ammonia drifting away from the laboratory on Thursday.

Liquid ammonia is used to extract the heat that builds up in electronic systems, dumping that excess energy to space through an array of radiators.

Nasa says the crew is in no danger. A spacewalk might be needed to inspect and fix the site of the leak.

The seepage is coming from the station's port side, at the far end of the backbone, or truss, structure that holds one of the laboratory's huge sets of solar arrays.

Commander Chris Hadfield reported seeing "a very steady stream of flakes".

"They were coming out cleanly and repeatedly enough that it looked like it was a point source they were coming from," he added.

Cameras were trained on the location so that engineers on the ground could get a better idea of what was happening.

Hadfield later tweeted: "It is a serious situation, but between crew and experts on the ground, it appears to have been stabilized. [Friday] we find out for certain."

Nasa believes the problem is associated with the 2B power channel, one of eight fed by the station's solar arrays.

It is not the first time that the station's cooling systems have caused problems.

A very small leak was identified in 2007 in the same location, and a spacewalk was organised in 2012 to reconfigure coolant lines and isolate the problem.

Nasa said in a statement that the rate of loss of ammonia on Thursday meant the cooling loop would very likely have to be shut down, although it stressed this would not cause the station or its occupants any difficulty.

The station currently has a crew of six. Commander Hadfield, a Canadian, is due to leave the platform with American astronaut Tom Marshburn and Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko on Monday.

Hadfield asked mission controllers if the leak might prevent the undocking of his return capsule. They responded that there was no technical reason why it should, but that engineers would update the crew once they understood the issues more fully.

The Canadian, who has a cult following for his orbital photography, tweeted another image of Planet Earth before retiring to sleep: "Tonight's Finale: A view to put the mind at ease."

View of Earth Commander Hadfield: "Tonight's Finale: A view to put the mind at ease."

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