EL PASO, Texas – Russia launched a long-delayed module for its segment of the International Space Station on July 21, but that module reportedly suffered technical issues after reaching orbit.
A Proton-M rocket lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 10:58 a.m. EST, carrying the Multipurpose Laboratory Module, or Nauka. The module separated from the upper stage of the rocket approximately nine and a half minutes after launch. Roscosmos and NASA said Nauka deployed its solar panels and navigation antennas shortly after the separation.
Neither agency provided additional updates on Nauka’s condition, but Russian industry sources, posted online, claimed the mod suffered several issues after reaching orbit. These issues included the inability to confirm that an antenna and docking target deployed as intended, as well as issues with infrared sensors and thrusters. It was not immediately clear how serious the issues were and whether they would affect the mooring plans.
Nauka, which means “science” in Russian, is the first module (excluding airlock and docking adapters) added to the ISS since the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module in 2016. The module, 13 meters long and weighing more than 23,000 kilograms at launch, includes crew accommodation. , attitude control systems for the station, search facilities and cargo securement. Attached to the outside of the station is the European Space Agency’s European robotic arm, an 11-meter-long manipulator designed to service the Russian segment of the station.
Nauka will slowly approach the station, docking at the Zvezda module on July 29. It will replace the Pirs airlock module, added to the station in 2001. A Progress freighter will remove Pirs from the station on July 23 and later make a destructive reentry.
The development of Nauka has followed a long and tortured path. Roscosmos initially proposed to launch the mod in 2007, but numerous technical issues delayed the launch on several occasions, raising doubts that the mod would ever launch. These delays included issues with the module’s propulsion system that required its replacement.
Roscosmos’ continued effort to complete and launch Nauka, however, has given NASA executives confidence that they intend to continue to be part of the ISS program. Earlier this year, Russian officials suggested they could end their participation in the ISS as early as the mid-2020s to focus their resources on a Russian space station.
“I was quite worried because of these comments coming from Russia. Were they going to turn around and break the partnership we had? NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said during a House Science Committee hearing on June 23. He said his concern had faded after several discussions with Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos.
He also cited the upcoming launch of Nauka. “Why would they do this and then, in a few years, give it up?” It just didn’t make sense, ”he said. “I think we’re going to see continued cooperation.”
Nauka’s launch came hours after astronauts moved a Crew Dragon spacecraft to the ISS. Astronauts Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, Akihiko Hoshide and Thomas Pesquet boarded the spacecraft to maneuver from one Harmony Module docking port to another. The maneuver began at 6:45 a.m. Eastern Time with the undocking of the forward mooring port and ended with mooring at the Zenith mooring port 50 minutes later.
The maneuver frees the forward port on Harmony for the arrival of a Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft at the station on an unmanned test flight called Orbital Flight Test (OFT) 2. The forward docking port is over easy for the spacecraft to approach, hence the Crew-2 Crew Dragon spacecraft maneuver to open this port.
The OFT-2 mission is scheduled to launch on July 30 from Cape Canaveral, Florida on a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5. A flight readiness review to confirm this schedule will take place on July 22.