After an eight-day trip to space and with almost 15 years behind the initial plans, the new Russian scientific module Nauka docked this 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 started to work ... unexpectedly and inadvertently, moving the station 45 degrees out of position.
The recovery operations have returned it to its (initial) position and the crew 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 back to the expected position, ”she commented in her live flight control broadcast.
"New module, new perspectives" for the Russians
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. 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", 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.
International cooperation that works
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 for 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, NASA and private actor Boeing Space commented on Twitter, 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.
Waiting for 15 years
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.
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