Russian science module Nauka docked with the ISS

After an eight-day trip to space and almost fifteen years behind the initial plans, the new Russian scientific module Nauka docked, Thursday, July 29, at the International Space Station (ISS), not without having encountered a temporary propellant problem.

A few hours after docking, the cosmonauts thus reported the unexpected ignition of Nauka’s engines, forcing them to turn on those of the Russian segment of the ISS to compensate for the movement produced on the orbital laboratory.

“The thrusters started to work (…) unexpectedly and inadvertently moving the station 45 degrees out of position. The recovery operations put it back in its position [initiale] and the crew is not in danger ”NASA explained on Twitter. “The ignition of the thrusters has ceased and the loss of position has been stopped. The station is back to the expected position », commented NASA in its live broadcast of the flight control.

At a press conference, NASA human spaceflight manager Kathy Lueders called the incident “Really exciting time”, while thanking the crew for rectifying the situation.

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Boeing Starliner test launch postponed

The American space agency also revealed that the space freighter Dragon of the SpaceX program launched by the American billionaire Elon Musk, currently attached to the international station, had been put on stand-by and ready to evacuate the crew if necessary. As a result of this incident, the test launch of the unmanned Boeing Starliner spacecraft to the international station has been postponed until at least August 3 for the duration of an ongoing investigation.

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Science (« science » in russian, to pronounce «Naouka» in French) took off on July 21 aboard a Proton-M rocket from the Russian Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. At the end of these eight days in space, necessary to position itself in the same orbit as the ISS, this space laboratory docked at 4:29 p.m. (3:29 p.m. in Paris) at the Russian service module Zvezda .

The docking was to take place in automatic mode, but cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky, currently on board the ISS, took manual control of the module to guide him over the very last meters. “New module, new perspectives for Russian cosmonautics”, meanwhile greeted on Twitter cosmonaut Ivan Vagner.

Several months and a series of extra-vehicular outings will still be necessary to make Nauka fully operational and integrated into the ISS. This is the first time in eleven years that a new Russian module has joined the orbital laboratory.

International cooperation works

The operation was closely scrutinized by the European Space Agency (ESA), Nauka taking with him one of his equipment, the ERA robotic arm, which will be installed outside the module.

After a successful launch and launching into orbit, Nauka’s route had been marked by several technical issues, forcing Roscosmos to maneuver and for a while raising fears that the module could not reach the ISS. “We were concerned for the first three days, there was a loss of telemetry”, said the head of the Russian space agency Dmitry Rogozin, adding that a “State commission will analyze all observations”.

“Congratulations to all who are involved”, commented on Twitter ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher, NASA and private actor Boeing Space also congratulating the Russian space agency. The ISS and space exploration remain a rare area in which international cooperation functions, in a period of tensions between Russia and Western countries.

With a total weight of 20 tonnes for an interior volume of 70 m3 – making it one of the largest on the ISS – the module began to be assembled during the 1990s but its launch, initially scheduled for 2007, has been constantly delayed. Like other Russian space projects, it fell victim to funding issues, bureaucratic errors, and technical issues during its design.

This space laboratory replaces the Pirs module, much smaller, which detached from the ISS on Monday before burning up on re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean.

If Nauka is primarily a laboratory module, it will also provide “Additional volumes for workstations and cargo storage, places for water and oxygen regeneration equipment”, according to Roscosmos.

ESA’s robotic arm, meanwhile, had been almost ready since 2007 and was just waiting for this docking. Hanging on to Nauka and able to stand ” move “ along the Russian segment of the ISS, it can carry up to eight tonnes of equipment and will help astronauts in particular during their extra-vehicular outings.

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The World with AFP