The International Space Station tries to maneuver to avoid debris, but sometimes (and it has actually happened) they discover something that could hit them too late to move, so they shelter in Soyuz spacecraft.

What exactly is the logic behind this action, and what do they expect to happen to pressure levels if the ISS is hit? I imagine the danger is that debris hits the ISS and cause depressurization. But that doesn't do any good if the Soyuz has its airlock completely connected. Isn't that the normal state of affairs?

Do they isolate the Soyuz's atmosphere from the rest of the station when sheltering? Or do they just have a hatch that will only close fully if depressurization starts happening?


1 Answer 1


A Soyuz has two (three?) compartments.

  • The Orbital module at the top which has the docking probe and the main door.
  • The Descent module in the middle that is where the crew resides for launches and landings.
  • Propulsion/Service module at the bottom. No room for people, but fuel, equipment, etc. (So is it really a compartment? Or more of a 'module', whatever you want to call it).

There is a hatch between the Orbital and Descent module, of course, since the Orbital module is dumped before reentry, the hatch on the Descent module must be sufficient for exposure to the atmosphere, space, everything in between plus reentry.

Thus I imagine, if they are sheltering in the Soyuz they probably close at least the Orbital modules hatch to the station, since they would need it closed to depart the station anyway. But they have an extra hatch if needed, in the descent module. This of course is a distinct advantage that Soyuz has over ATV, HTV, Dragon, Cygnus, CST-100, and Dream Chaser (Who the heck knows what Blue Origin is really doing) in terms of other craft visiting the station.

It is unclear if in an emergency they could discard the orbital module and leave it attached to the station and depart in just the Descent and propulsion modules. Nor is it clear, what they would do after that to recover. I imagine, worst case they could fashion a grapple point for the CanadaArm to the Orbital module to 'throw' it away. Of course, if it ever got that bad, who knows if there would be a recovery for the ISS.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm pretty sure the Russians would try. They have succeeded before to recover from lesser problems that were thought to mean loss of station. $\endgroup$
    – Joshua
    May 7, 2017 at 14:26

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