Feeds

Hot Stuff! NASA mulls 'urgent' space walk as ISS cooler conks out

In space, no one can hear you sweat

Build a business case: developing custom apps

NASA has ordered a partial shutdown of the International Space Station after one of the two cooling systems stopping the astronauts broiling stopped working unexpectedly.

The ISS has two ammonia-based cooling loops placed outside the orbiting station that suck out the heat generated by equipment and personnel. On Wednesday one of these loops began to heat up and had to be shut down for safety reasons, possibly due to a dodgy flow control valve in the cooling system pump, and the agency is still trying to work out how to fix the problem.

"At no time was the crew or the station itself in any danger, but the ground teams did work to move certain electrical systems over to the second loop," NASA said in a statement. "The crew is safe and preparing to begin a normal sleep shift while experts on the ground collect more data and consider what troubleshooting activities may be necessary."

The second cooling loop on the ISS isn’t powerful enough to cool the station on its own, so "non-critical systems" have been shut down in the Harmony node (containing electrical and computing systems), and the Kibo and Columbus laboratory modules.

Early indications are that the cooling system valve may be fixed with a software upgrade, but if not, NASA is getting ready for some of the ISS' six-person crew to suit up and take a space walk to check out if the problem can be fixed from the outside of the platform.

The ISS has had repeated problems with its cooling systems over the last year, with unscheduled space walks to effect repairs last November and in May this year. Both of those issues were with coolant leaks, rather than the current mechanical failure.

Cooling is vital to the ISS. Without thermal control systems the side of the station catching the Sun's rays would heat up to 250°F (121°C), while temperatures on the shadow side of the ISS fall to -250°F (-157°C). The cooling system not only keeps the astronauts comfortable, but also eases the thermal stresses on the module's structure.

Within the ISS itself most of the thermal control systems use water cooling but that's not going to work for exterior cooling – the fluid would quickly freeze, so ammonia is used instead. These coolers act not only on the shell of the ISS but also regulate the temperature of its solar panels.

NASA's mission control in the Johnson Space Center is running through preset routines to check out the cooling systems telemetry before making any decisions on a space walk. The ISS does have backup pumps in orbit if some DIY is required and it's highly unlikely that more serious measures will have to be taken. ®

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
Asteroid's DINO KILLING SPREE just bad luck – boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
Brit amateur payload set to complete full circle around PLANET EARTH
Ultralight solar radio tracker in glorious 25,000km almost-space odyssey
Boffins spot weirder quantum capers as neutrons take the high road, spin takes the low
Cheshire cat effect see neutrons and their properties walk different paths
NASA Mars rover FINALLY equals 1973 Soviet benchmark
Yet to surpass ancient Greek one, however
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Maximize storage efficiency across the enterprise
The HP StoreOnce backup solution offers highly flexible, centrally managed, and highly efficient data protection for any enterprise.