Russia said it successfully docked the Nauka laboratory module with the International space platform on Thursday — though the troubled unit caused yet one more fright after accidentally firing and briefly throwing the whole station out of position.
The mission comes after quite a decade of delays and as Russia seeks to spice up its space industry, which has fallen behind since the collapse of the Soviet Union and struggles to stay up with competition from us.
A few hours after docking, Nauka’s propulsive devices unexpectedly fired, forcing personnel aboard the multinational manned orbital platform to fireside thrusters on the Russian segment of the station to counter the effect.
The module started firing “inadvertently and unexpectedly, moving the station 45 degrees out of attitude,” NASA said on Twitter. “Recovery operations have regained attitude and therefore the crew is in no danger,” it added.
In a press call, NASA’s human spaceflight program chief Kathy Lueders called the incident a “pretty exciting hour”, and praised the crew for stabilizing things.
The US space agency also revealed that the SpaceX Dragon docked to the orbital station was powered up and prepared to evacuate crew if needed.
An uncrewed test launch of a Boeing Starliner crew capsule to the ISS is going to be pushed back from Friday until a minimum of August 3 while an investigation is underway.
Earlier, the Russian space agency Roscosmos showed the new addition to its segment of the ISS docking with the nadir (Earth-facing) port of the Zvezda service module at 1329 GMT.
“There is contact!!!” Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin tweeted as Russia completed the primary docking of an ISS module in 11 years.
It will now take several months and multiple spacewalks to completely integrate the module with the space platform.
– Decades within the making –
The Nauka module blasted off last week from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, carried by a Russian Proton rocket.
Nauka — which suggests “science” in Russian — is going to be primarily used for research and storing laboratory equipment.
It will also provide more space for storing, new water and oxygen regeneration systems, and improved living conditions for cosmonauts of the Russian ISS sector.
The Nauka multipurpose laboratory module was conceived as early because the mid-1990s when it had been intended as a back-up for the Russian control module Zarya.
It was later repurposed as a science module but joined a line-up of stagnating Russian space projects that have fallen victim to funding problems or bureaucratic procedures.
The launch of the 20-tonne Nauka — one among the most important modules on the ISS — was initially scheduled for 2007 but has been repeatedly delayed over various issues.
While last week’s launch was successful, Nauka experienced several “hiccups in orbit” during its eight-day journey to the ISS, the ECU Space Agency said.
“We won’t lie… We had to stress for the primary three days,” Rogozin told journalists after Nauka had docked, consistent with the RIA Novosti press agency.
– Russia’s future on ISS –
Launched in 1998 and involving Russia, us, Canada, Japan, and therefore the European Space Agency, the ISS is one among Russia’s few remaining collaborations with the West.
The ISS is split into two sections: the Russian Orbital Segment, and therefore the remainder travel by the US and other partners.
For years, NASA was reliant on Russia to ferry its astronauts to the ISS and paid many dollars for a seat on a Soyuz rocket.
But last year Russia lost its monopoly for manned flights to the ISS after the successful mission folks billionaire Elon Musk’s Space X.
In April, Russia said it had been considering withdrawing from the ISS program citing aging infrastructure and was getting to launch the primary core module of a replacement orbital station in 2025.
Russia has announced a series of projects in recent years, including a mission to Venus and a station on the Moon, but because the Kremlin diverts funding to military ventures, analysts question the feasibility of those ambitions.