Earlier today, astronauts on the International Space Station spotted "small white flakes" floating away from the ISS and into space. NASA and the Expedition 35 crew on the ISS have figured out that those white flakes are ammonia and that the rate of ammonia leaking from the space station is increasing. Hmm. That can't be good, right?
The ISS uses chilled liquid ammonia to cool the space station's power channels on its eight solar array panels. Each solar array has its own independent cooling loop. This particular ammonia cooling loop has been especially pesky, a minor leak first sprouted up in 2007 and then in 2012, two astronauts tried to fix that leak (which wasn't visibile like this one). NASA doesn't know if this current leak is the same as the old leak or a new one altogether.
Apparently, NASA says the crew is in no immediate danger but it is taking the leak very seriously. NASA spokesman Kelly Humphries told SPACE that the leak affects an important system. SPACE says:
If they lose the ability to cool that particular solar array, it won't be able to generate power for the station. In fact, the leak has worsened to the point that Mission Control expects that particular loop to shut down within the next 24 hours.
NASA says that plans are currently being developed to reroute other power channels so that they can maintain full operation of the systems typically controlled by the solar array that is suffering the leak. [NASA via SPACE]