Earlier this year, Russian space officials discussed the withdrawal from the International Space Station in 2025. However, that didn’t stop them from sending a new addition to their segment of the outpost. It’s called the Nauka module, and its design and development began more than 20 years ago.
The module fills a gap in the Russian part of the station for a capsule for scientific experiments and is considered important for the entire Russian program. It will also feature a number of other improvements for the Russian part of the station.
Here’s what you need to know about the Nauka module and its arrival in the space station on Thursday.
When is the docking and how can I watch it?
The new Russian module is scheduled to arrive at the space station on Thursday at around 9:25 a.m. Eastern Time.
NASA TV will broadcast live coverage at 8:30 a.m. Eastern Time. Viewers who would like to follow the operation in Russian can tune into the YouTube page of Roskosmos, the Russian space agency.
What is the Nauka module?
Nauka was originally built as a backup for another Russian module, Zarya, and was later repurposed. Nauka means science in Russian and fits in with his main task: to accommodate laboratory equipment for experiments.
The module also includes a radiation-insulated cabin with an additional living room for astronauts, a toilet, new water recycling and air filter systems, storage space and a robot arm from the European Space Agency.
Weighing in at over 20 tons and over 42 feet in length, Nauka is set to become one of the station’s largest modules. A series of spacewalks will be required to hook them up to the station’s power and command circuits.
Why is Russia adding a new component to the space station?
Development of the module began in the mid-1990s, before the station’s first components skyrocketed, and well before the current political tensions with the US that have increased the prospects of Russia leaving the space station by 2025.
The launch was repeatedly delayed by manufacturing errors and underfunding, creating a loophole on the station’s Russian side. Russia is currently the only major operator without its own laboratory module.
Equipped with solar panels, Nauka will also make the Russian orbital segment less dependent on energy from the American side. Additional living quarters, including a bed for an astronaut, make it possible to expand the permanent Russian crew to three members.
What problems did the module have after starting?
A Russian Proton rocket put the new module into orbit without errors, but problems arose almost immediately.
A breakdown in the spacecraft’s engines made scientists on Earth nervous for days, according to the European Space Agency, whose robotic arm is attached to the module. “Adversity insisted on being part of the trip,” the agency said in a statement.
While Nauka is finally attached to the station, it flew in orbit as an autonomous spacecraft for several days. The module exposed its solar panels and antennas, but then failed to fire engines to increase its orbit, a possible end-of-mission problem. Russian engineers managed to correct this, the European Space Agency said, characterizing the episode as a couple of “hectic days of mission control.”
Roskosmos, the Russian space agency, never addressed the problems directly in its updates on the mission and only found out in a press release last Thursday that the module’s engines were actually in operation. “Telemetry confirmed the functionality of the module drive unit,” said Roskosmos in the statement.