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Image Credit: Oleg Novitsky.

Nauka laboratory module docks to the ISS

The new uncrewed Russian Nauka laboratory module has finally rendezvoused and docked with the International Space Station (ISS) earlier today, July 29, 2021. Docking to the Earth-facing docking port of the Zvezda module at the Russian segment of the space station occurred at 13:29 UTC, after an eight-day long voyage though low Earth orbit. The 20.3 tonnes heavy module will serve as the space station’s new dedicated research facility, docking port and crew quarter.

Nauka approaches the ISS. Image Credit: Oleg Novitsky.
Nauka approaches the ISS. Image Credit: Oleg Novitsky.
Nauka docked to the ISS' Zvezda module. Image Credit: NASA TV.
Nauka docked to the ISS’ Zvezda module. Image Credit: NASA TV.

The Nauka module

The Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM), also known as Nauka, is a new Russian research facility docked to the ISS earlier today. Development and construction of Nauka already began in the mid-1990s, however the module was originally designed as a backup for the Russian Zarya module and not as a dedicated research facility. Nauka had a launch mass of 20.3 tonnes, is equipped with a docking port for arriving Soyuz and Progress spacecraft and is able to transfer propellants between spacecraft and other modules. The module also provides space for up to three tonnes of research equipment and experiments, has its own onboard propulsion system, with which Nauka will help raise the ISS’ orbit from time to time and which the module utilized to rendezvous with the space station. The MLM also includes space for another crew member, an additional toilet, an additional oxygen generator and is equipped with the European Robotic Arm (ERA). Nauka’s launch to the ISS was the first launch of a large Russian module since the launch of Zvezda in Juli 2000.

The Nauka module seen during final preparations ahead of its launch. Image Credit: Roscosmos.
The Nauka module seen during final preparations ahead of its launch. Image Credit: Roscosmos.

Nauka’s launch

The three-stage, liquid-fueled, heavy-lift Proton-M rocket carrying Nauka, blasted off from Site 200 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 14:58:24 UTC / 19:58:24 QYZT (local time) on July 21, 2021. After 123.70 seconds of flight, the six rocket engines on Proton’s first stage, shut down and the core stage separated from the second stage. The second stage ignited its engines just moments after cut off of the first stage, at a point were both the first and the second stage still had been connected. At around 5 1/2 minutes after liftoff, the second stage’s engines shut down and the stage separated from the third and final stage of the rocket. That was soon followed by the ignition of the third stage and the jettison of the payload fairing. The third stage continued to fire for several more minutes until about 9 1/2 minutes after launch, before also shutting down ahead of the separation of the Nauka module. That final step in the launch occured at T+9 min 40 s, when the third stage’s payload adapter released the module and the stage fired multiple retro rockets to avoid a collision with Nauka.

A few minutes after separation, the Multipurpose Laboratory Module had succesfully deployed its solar arrays and all of its navigational antennas.

Nauka blasts off from Baikonur. Image Credit: Roscosmos.

The Pirs Docking Compartment

The Pirs Docking Compartment, also known as DC-1, was a Russian module docked to the Zvezda module’s nadir port at the Russian segment of the ISS for almost 20 years. Pirs was launched to the ISS on September 14, 2001 atop a Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The module, which was attached to a modified Progress freighter, arrived at the space station about three days later on September 17, 2001 and automatically docked to the station at 01:05 UTC. Pirs was 4.91 m in length, 2.55 m in diameter and served as one of the International Space Station’s airlocks for spacewalks. It also provided a docking port for the Russian Soyuz and Progress spacecraft and was able to transfer propellant between docked visiting vehicles and the Russian Zvezda and Zarya modules.

The Pirs module and a docked Progress space freigher. Image Credit: NASA.

On July 26 at 10:55 UTC, the small module was undocked from Zvezda by the uncrewed Russian Progress MS-16 resupply freighter, to free Zvezda’s docking port for the arrival of Nauka. Both the Progress freighter and the Pirs module burned up in Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean a few hours later, after Progress had performed a 17 min 37 s long retrograde deorbit burn.

Undocking of Pirs and Progress MS-16. Image Credit: Oleg Novitsky.

After Pirs departure, ground controllers conducted a detailed video survey of the vacated docking port with the station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm, to search for any damages or debris caused by the module’s undocking. In the case of any debris or damages, the two Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitsky and Pyotr Dubrov would have performed a spacewalk to clean and repair the docking port.

The Prichal module

Later this year, Russia will also launch Prichal, a second new module, to the ISS. Prichal, also known as Uzlovoy Module (UM) or Node Module (NM), will be a four tonnes ball-shaped module launched to the space station atop a modified Progress freighter atop a Soyuz rocket from Baikonur. Once the spacecraft arrives at the orbital laboratory, the Progress-MS-UM will automatically dock Prichal to the nadir docking port of the Nauka module. Prichal will provide five additional docking ports for arriving spacecraft.


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