Russia suspects sabotage in Soyuz ISS air leak

Russia is investigating potential sabotage of its Soyuz rocket, after evidence that a drill was responsible for the hole spotted at the International Space Station was unearthed. Astronauts in orbit resorted to using epoxy to seal the hole late last week, with the incident first blamed on a meteorite strike.

That explanation, though, has now been discarded. Speaking on Russian television, Dmitry Rogozin, Director General of the country's space agency Roscosmos, said that investigations had already ruled out the meteorite strike theory. "The one about a meteorite impact has been rejected because the spaceship's hull was evidently impacted from inside," he continued.

Instead, Roscosmos and Soyuz manufacturer Energiya are now looking at whether evidence of drilling was intentional or a poorly-fixed mistake. "There are traces of a drill sliding along the surface," Rogozin said, TASS reports, describing the handiwork as the result of a "faltering hand." The big question was whether the hole could've been a production defect, or more premeditated.

That might not even have happened on Earth, the Russian space chief argued. "We are checking the Earth version," he explained, AFP reports, "but there is another version that we do not rule out. Deliberate interference in space."

A commission has now been set up to look at the cause, with the goal of identifying the person responsible by name. Roscosmos does not intend to use the craft to bring its cosmonauts back to Earth. There are currently two of the Russian space experts on the ISS, along with three astronauts from NASA, and a German astronaut from the European Space Agency.

One possibility, according to a space industry source speaking to the Russian state news agency TASS, is that the hole was the result of a botched repair. "Someone messed up and then got scared and sealed up the hole," the insider suggested. That sealant could have fallen off when the spacecraft made it to the orbiting research platform.

The hole itself was only 2mm across, but it was enough for a pressure drop to be observed after the Soyuz MS-09 was docked at the ISS. Cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev and Sergei Prokopyev used an epoxy-based sealant to repair the damage. According to Roscosmos, the pressure is now holding stable.

"It is a matter of honor for Energia Rocket and Space Corporation to find the one responsible for that, to find out whether it was an accidental defect or a deliberate spoilage and where it was done – either on Earth or in space," Rogozin insisted. "Now it is essential to see the reason, to learn the name of the one responsible for that. And we will find out, without fail."