The Russian science module Nauka docked yesterday (29) to the International Space Station (ISS), after eight days of travel, according to the Roscosmos space agency
Hours after the docking operation, there was a problem with the propeller engine, activated unexpectedly, which changed the orientation of the ISS.
“The thrusters started working (…) unexpectedly and moved the station by 45º. Correction operations allowed to put it back in its position and the crew is not in danger”, explained NASA on Twitter.
During a press conference, NASA Flight Officer Kathy Lueders called the incident a “really exciting time” while thanking the crew for overcoming the setback.
The American space agency also highlighted that the space capsule Dragon, from the SpaceX program, launched by millionaire Elon Musk, docked on the ISS, was ready to evacuate the crew if necessary.
This incident caused the test launch of the unmanned Boeing Starliner space vehicle towards the space station to be postponed until Aug. 3 for the duration of the ongoing investigation.
The Nauka (“science” in Russian) module was launched on July 21 aboard a Proton-M rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
After eight days of space travel, required to position itself in the same orbit as the ISS, the scientific module was docked at 4:29 pm Moscow time (10:29 am EDT) to the Russian service module Zvezda.
“Contact confirmed!”, tweeted the director of Roscosmos, Dmitri Rogozine, when announcing the coupling of the module.
“According to the telemetry data and reports from the ISS crew, the systems on board the station and the Naukas module function normally,” the space agency said in a statement.
The operation was supposed to be done automatically, but cosmonaut Oleg Novitski, aboard the ISS, took manual control of the module to guide it the last few meters.
“New module, new perspectives for Russian astronautics,” emphasized Russian crewmember Ivan Vagner on Twitter.
One of the biggest on the ISS
It now takes several months of work and several spacewalks for the Nauka to be fully operational and integrated with the ISS.
After its launch was delayed for nearly a decade, the module's journey was closely monitored by the European Space Agency (ESA), as Nauka transported the ERA robotic arm, which will be installed abroad.
Nauka is a laboratory module, but it will also provide “additional space for workstations and cargo storage, and space for oxygen and water regeneration equipment,” said Roscosmos.
It replaces, after 20 years of service, the Pirs module, which was decoupled from the ISS on Monday to be consumed in Earth's atmosphere during a controlled entry into the southern Pacific Ocean.
With a total weight of 20 tonnes and an internal volume of 70 m3, it is one of the largest modules on the ISS.
ESA's mechanical arm, which was practically ready since 2007, will be able to “move” along the Russian segment of the ISS, and can carry up to eight tons of material, helping the cosmonauts in their space exits.
“We were worried”
“Let's not lie, things didn't go as expected, but they weren't bad,” acknowledged Dimitri Rogozine, quoted by Russian agencies.
After a successful launch and orbit positioning, Nauka experienced several technical problems in space, forcing the ISS to make several maneuvers and fueling fears that it might not dock.
“We were worried for the first three days. There was a loss of telemetry”, explained the director of Roscosmos, who indicated that “a state commission will analyze all these observations”.
“Congratulations to everyone involved,” said ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher on Twitter.
NASA and the Boeing Space company also congratulated the Russian space agency, in a demonstration of the cooperation that prevails in the space field.
As with other Russian projects in space, the module faced funding problems, bureaucratic errors and technical problems during its design and development.
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