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Nauka blasts off from Baikonur. Image Credit: Roscosmos.

Proton launches new Russian Nauka module into space

Russia’s newest ISS module, called the “Multipurpose Laboratory Module” or “Nauka”, earlier today, July 21, 2021, blasted off into space and toward the International Space Station. The over 20 tonnes heavy module launched atop a Russian Proton-M launch vehicle from Site 200 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 14:58 UTC / 19:58 QYZT (local time).

The module will now travel through orbit for about eight days, slowly raising its orbit ahead of the rendezvous with the ISS. The spacecraft is expected to arrive at the orbiting laboratory on July 29 and subsequently dock to the Earth-facing docking port (nadir port) of the Russian Zvezda module at 13:25 UTC.

Nauka blasts off from Baikonur. Image Credit: Roscosmos.
Nauka blasts off from Baikonur. Image Credit: Roscosmos.

Prior to the arrival of Nauka at the orbiting laboratory, the Russian Pirs module will be undocked from Zvezda’s nadir port on July 23 at 13:17 UTC by the Russian Progress MS-16 resupply freighter. Both Pirs and the Progress will burn up in Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean a few hours after departing the ISS. Ground controllers will then inspect the dockig port with the space station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm, to search for any debris caused by the undocking of Pirs. In the unlikely case of a damage to Zvezda’s nadir port, the two Russian cosmonauts Pyotr Dubrov and Oleg Novitsky will perform a spacewalk a few days later, to clean and repair the port ahead of Nauka’s arrival.

Today’s launch was the first launch of a three-stage Proton-M rocket. All previous Proton-M rockets were equipped with an additional fourth stage.

Mission profile

The three-stage, liquid-fueled, heavy-lift launch vehicle blasted off from Site 200 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 14:58:24 UTC / 19:58:24 QYZT (local time).

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.

The Nauka module

The Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM), also known as Nauka, is a Russian laboratory module to arrive at the ISS in a couple of days. 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 over 20 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 provides space for up to three tonnes of research equipment and experiments and has its own onboard propulsion system, with which Nauka will help raise the ISS’ orbit from time to time. The MLM also includes space for another crew member, another toilet 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.
Roll out of Nauka and its Proton-M rocket to Site 200 on Saturday, July 17, 2021. Image Credit: Roscosmos.

The Pirs module

The Pirs Docking Compartment, also known as DC-1, is a Russian module currently docked to the Zvezda module’s nadir port at the Russian segment of the ISS. 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 is 4.91 m in length, 2.55 m in diameter and serves as one of the International Space Station’s airlocks for spacewalks. It also provides a docking port for the Russian Soyuz and Progress spacecraft and is 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.

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 new modules and arriving spacecraft.


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