AFP, published on Thursday, July 29, 2021 at 8:38 p.m.
After an eight-day trip to space and with almost 15 years behind the initial plans, the new Russian science module Nauka docked on Thursday at the International Space Station (ISS), not without having encountered a temporary problem of thrusters.
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 began to operate (…) unexpectedly and inadvertently, moving the station 45 degrees out of position. Righting operations returned it to its (original) position and the crew did not 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 again at the intended position,” NASA commented in its live broadcast of the flight control.
Nauka (“science” in Russian, pronounced “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. (1:29 p.m. GMT) 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 few meters.
“New module, new perspectives for Russian cosmonautics,” meanwhile greeted cosmonaut Ivan Vagner on Twitter.
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.
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.
– 15 years late –
After a successful launch and placing in orbit, Nauka’s route had been marked by several technical problems, forcing Roscosmos to maneuver and for a while raising fears that the module could not reach the ISS.
“We were concerned 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 the observations”.
“Congratulations to everyone involved,” ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher commented on Twitter, 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 – which makes it one of the largest on the ISS – the module began to be assembled during the 1990s but its launch, initially planned for 2007, has been constantly delayed.
Like other Russian space projects, it suffered from funding issues, bureaucratic mistakes 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.
Pirs had joined the orbital station in 2011 and was only due to have been in service for five years, but the delays of his replacement had forced Roscosmos to extend his life.
If Nauka is primarily a laboratory module, it will also provide “additional volumes for workstations and cargo storage, locations 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. Attached to Nauka and able to “move” along the Russian segment of the ISS, it can carry up to eight tons of equipment and will help in particular astronauts during their extra-vehicular outings.