Russian cosmonauts have discovered new cracks in a segment of the International Space Station that could widen, a senior space official has said.
Confirming the latest in a series of setbacks for the ISS on Monday, the Russian space agency's chief engineer described the news as "bad", adding that the cracks could now spread further.
"Superficial fissures have been found in some places on the Zarya module," Vladimir Solovyov, chief engineer of rocket and space corporation Energia, told RIA news agency.
"This is bad and suggests that the fissures will begin to spread over time."
He did not confirm whether the cracks had caused any air to leak.
The emergence of the new cracks follows several recent incidents on the ISS.
Russian officials last month said a software glitch, and a possible lapse in human attention were to blame for throwing the ISS out of control.
Jet thrusters on the Russian research module Nauka inadvertently reignited a few hours after it had docked, causing the entire orbital outpost to pitch out of its normal flight position with seven crew members aboard.
Roscosmos, Russia's space agency, also reported last month a drop in pressure in the Zvezda service module, which provides living quarters for crew members on the ISS that was caused by an air leak.
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Mr Solovyov has said previously that much of the International Space Station’s equipment is starting to age and has warned there could be an “avalanche” of broken equipment after 2025.
The space official had said that the damage will prove to be too costly, and Russia may have to create its own orbiting laboratory.
In November last year he told the Russian Academy of Sciences: "Until 2025, Russia has obligations to participate in the ISS program.
“There are already a number of elements that have been seriously damaged and are out of service.
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"Many of them are not replaceable. After 2025, we predict an avalanche-like failure of numerous elements onboard the ISS.”
However, Dmitry Rogozin, who is head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, said it may be too early to retire.
Mr Rogozin said that while some modules are damaged beyond repair, they could be replaced.
He said on Twitter: “I think it’s too early to write off the station.
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“I see the great potential of the ISS for the development of space tourism and the participation of private space companies.”
NASA already has its own plans in place following the ISSwith its Deep Space Gateway, which will likely act as a replacement for the ISS but will instead orbit the Moon.
While the ISS is, as the name suggests, an international collaboration, with the likes of the US, Russia, Japan, Canada and Europe having had astronauts on it.
But after signing an agreement for the joint operation of the program in 2017, Russia pulled out of it last year calling the proposals "too US-centric".
The Russian space agency, Roscosmos, has said it will remain part of the ISS until 2024 and that it is open to extending its participation beyond then.
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