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Russians release image of coolant system hole in Progress

Comparing holes in Soyuz and Progress spacecraft

Roscosmos officials today released a close-up image taken on February 17, 2023 of what they think is the hole in the Progress freighter that caused a leak in its coolant system on February 11th.

The picture was taken shortly after the freighter undocked from ISS to be de-orbited over the Pacific. To the right is a comparison of pictures taken of that Progress hole and the hole that occurred in December on the Soyuz spacecraft docked to ISS. The comparison was first created by this Twitter user but rearranged by me to post here. The red circle in the bottom image marks what the Russians identify as the Progress hole. The top image shows the hole that caused an almost identical leak in a Soyuz capsule in December. The Russians say the Progress hole is about 12 millimeters in diameter, and to their mind was caused “by an external influence,” same as the Soyuz hole.

This conclusion however is suspect. If you look at the best resolution version of the picture of the Progress hole (available here), there appears to be material surrounding the hole, as if the hole broke from the inside, not from an outside impact. (Because the resolution is poor, however, this conclusion is uncertain.)

More telling is that, as both pictures show, the two holes are almost in the exact same place on these two spacecraft. As noted by the Twitter user who first made this picture comparison, “I can’t even calculate the odds of 2 spacecraft being struck in almost the same place, within weeks of each other.”

That the Soyuz leak caused so much staining and the Progress leak has none is also puzzling.

Were these leaks both caused by the impact of a micrometeoriod or piece of space junk, as the Russians now claim? Or was one by sabotage or sloppy production work on the ground? Or were both? One impact might make sense, but two at almost the same spot? It defies logic or the percentages for two impacts so similar to occur so close together in time.

Sabotage however in the same area is very conceivable, especially considering that the Russians have never explained the cause of the hole that was drilled in a Soyuz capsule in 2018, a hole that was drilled and then patched, before launch.

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  • Mitch S.

    12mm. About the size of a bullet hole…

  • Jerry Greenwood

    We’ll never get the truth from them. Their culture requires obfuscation.

  • M Puckett

    It’s always in the part that doesn’t come back…

  • Andi

    Comparing the two pictures, it looks like there is a rivet in the Soyuz in the same place as the hole in Progress. I wonder if there was a rivet there that popped out?

  • Ray Van Dune

    The workmanship evidenced in the photos puts me in mind of that which I observed on the tail fairing surfaces of the AN-225 many years ago, when I had occasion to walk beneath it at an air show.

    The AN-225 was the six-engined version of Antonov 125 that was modified to carry the Buran orbiter. It was unfortunately destroyed early in the Russia-Ukraine war.

    The ‘225 tail was modified into a twin-finned configuration from the conventional unit on the ‘125, to permit the carriage of the orbiter. To my companion at the time, I described the fairing metalwork that was visible as probably barely passable for “Larry’s Reconditioned Lawnmowers”! Truly gruesome!

  • Jay

    I wish I could of gotten as close to the An-225 as you did. I did see it once landing in SLC while I was taxiing out. Everyone was too busy on their phones to notice that giant plane landing.
    Look up people! You are missing the world!

  • pawn

    I don’t think the second photograph is of the hole. You can clearly see something in that position in the first photo but it appears covered or painted. Not a rivet, those aren’t used in this type of construction.

    I made a comment when the first post of these photos was done:

    Sorry, late to the thread but this photo has been in the back of my head, bothering me for a while.

    The annular pattern of the stain may hold a clue. If the puncture was made by a drill I would expect the staining to be radially monotonic but the stain has a pronounced ring.

    That ring could be the result of the insulation material being compacted or shocked along a channel when stuck by a micrometeoroid changing it’s permeability making fluid diffusion more difficult.

    I would expect a “wound” of this kind to bleed out along the penetration channel. I’m sure the impact probably generated a plasma that might have fused the material locally, effectively sealing off the channel..


    Lately I’ve been wondering about the “odds”. What are the odds that a micrometeoroid impacted almost perfectly normal to the surface as opposed to coming in from any other direction.

  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “The Russians say the Progress hole is about 12 millimeters in diameter

    12 mm is about 1/2 inch. I’m thinking that is off by an order of magnitude, because that would make the bolts near it very large.

    Andi noted: “Comparing the two pictures, it looks like there is a rivet in the Soyuz in the same place as the hole in Progress. I wonder if there was a rivet there that popped out?

    I noticed that feature, too, but I came to a different conclusion. It looks to me like a dimple that formed from the inside toward the outside. It could also just be a feature of the staining. There does not seem to be a rivet pattern, so that possibility didn’t occur to me. Although I am not familiar with Russian design philosophies, pawn is probably right that rivets are not common for radiators.

  • Edward: I agree about the 12mm. I saw that number in the Russian language announcement, and assumed (a very stupid thing to do) that it was referring to the hole’s diameter. I suspect that assumption was very wrong.

  • Chris

    These two photos do not look like the same areas:

    The 12/22 photo shows the stained hole about 1 1/2” (guessing at scale) north north west (implying orientation) off of the strut..
    In the 2/23 photo that area is in shadow and possibly off the photo -not shown at all. The photo is from a different angle but the “landmarks” of the strut, the rivet (circled in 2/23), and the larger threaded hole (? , PEM ?) are different.,
    The 2/23 photo has a tube or other structure with raised (reinforcement) rings on the bottom. This is nowhere in the top photo.

    These are photos of different areas. Perhaps they are meant to be representative of each other.

  • Yo,

    It turns out my assumption about the size of the hole was correct. From TASS today:

    Probe reveals 12mm hole in Russia’s damaged Progress MS-21 space freighter

  • pzatchok

    I can see something in the very same place in both pictures.
    Different somethings yes but something in the very same place.

    That blurry lower picture could be just a picture of the something from a different angle and different thus different shadow.

    Could they provide a perfectly clear picture of the same area on the next one before launch? I know they have one.

  • Edward

    Chris wrote: “These two photos do not look like the same areas:

    The geometry looks the same to me. The strut is oriented the same; a hole-like feature is in the same relative location; the photo is of a corner with similar walls, one is sheet metal with a slot (perhaps for venting during launch), the other is ribbed in a similar manner; and both holes are reported to be in the radiator plumbing.

    The red circle in the bottom photo indicates the location of the suspect hole on the Progress spacecraft.

    Other than the orientation of the two photos, the only real differences seem to be the staining on the Soyuz spacecraft and the location of the suspected damage to the plate, the suspect holes.

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