On July 21, Russia launched a long-awaited module for its International Space Station section, but the module apparently experienced technical issues after reaching orbit. At 10:58 a.m. Eastern, a Proton-M rocket launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome carrying Nauka or the Multipurpose Laboratory Module. About 570 seconds after launch, the module split from rocket’s upper stage. Nauka’s navigational antennas and solar arrays were deployed quickly after separation, according to both Roscosmos and NASA.
Neither agency has offered any additional information on the state of Nauka. However, Russian industry sources have indicated that the module had several issues after being launched into orbit. The inability to establish that docking target and an antenna deployed as predicted and challenges with thrusters and infrared sensors were among the problems. It was unclear how serious the issues were or whether they would impede docking arrangements.
Since the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module was installed in 2016, Nauka, Russian for the “science,” is the very first module (except airlocks and docking adapters) to be added to the ISS. Crew quarters, station research facilities, attitude control systems, and cargo stowage are all included in the 13-meter-long module, which weighs more than 23,000 kg at launch. The European Space Agency’s European Robotic Arm, which is the manipulator 11 meters long meant to service the Russian part of the station, is attached to the station’s exterior.
On July 29, Nauka will dock with the Zvezda module after a cautious approach to the station. The Pirs airlock module, which was installed at the station in 2001, will be replaced. Pirs will be removed from the station on July 23 by a Progress cargo spacecraft, making a catastrophic reentry. Nauka’s development has been a long and arduous process. The module was supposed to launch in 2007, but Roscosmos repeatedly postponed it due to technical issues, raising doubts about whether it would ever launch. Among the reasons for the delays were issues with module’s propulsion system, which necessitated its replacement.
However, Roscosmos’ continued efforts to complete and launch Nauka have given NASA leadership assurance that they plan to stay a part of the ISS program. The Russian officials suggested earlier this year that they might leave the ISS as early as mid-2020s to concentrate their funds on the Russian space station.
“I was really concerned about the rhetoric emanating out of Russia. Were they going to make a U-turn and end our collaboration? At a House Science Committee hearing on June 23, Bill Nelson, the NASA Administrator said. After several consultations with Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Roscosmos, he said his concerns faded. He also mentioned Nauka’s forthcoming release. “Why would they do something and then abandon it in a few years? He explained, “It just didn’t make logic.” “I believe we will see sustained cooperation.”