Earlier this year, Russian space officials were talking about withdrawing from the International Space Station in 2025. But that hasn’t stopped them from sending a new addition to their segment of the outpost. This is called the Nauka module, and its design and development began over 20 years ago.
The module fills a gap in the Russian part of the station for a capsule intended for science experiments, and is considered important for the entire Russian program. It will also provide an assortment of other upgrades to the Russian section of the station.
Here’s what you need to know about the Nauka module and its arrival on the space station on Thursday.
When is the docking and how can I watch it?
The new Russian module is expected to arrive at the space station around 9:25 a.m. Eastern time on Thursday.
NASA TV will broadcast live coverage at 8:30 a.m. Eastern Time. Viewers wishing to watch the operation in Russian can log on to the YouTube page of Roscosmos, the Russian space agency.
What is the Nauka module?
Nauka was originally built as a backup for another Russian module, Zarya, and later reused. Nauka in Russian means science, corresponding to its main mission: to house laboratory equipment for experiments.
Beyond that, the module includes a radiation insulated cabin with an additional lounge for astronauts, restrooms, new water recycling and air filtering systems, storage space and an arm. robotics provided by the European Space Agency.
With a weight of over 20 tons and a length of over 42 feet, Nauka is fast becoming one of the station’s largest modules. A series of spacewalks will be required to connect it to the station’s electrical and control circuits.
Why is Russia adding a new component to the space station?
Development of the module began in the mid-1990s, before the first components of the station took off and long before current political tensions with the United States, which increased the chances of Russia leaving the space station by now. 2025.
Its launch has been repeatedly delayed by manufacturing flaws and underfunding, leaving a void on the Russian side of the station. 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 US side. Additional living space, including a bed for an astronaut, will allow the permanent Russian crew to be extended to three members.
What problems did the module encounter after launching?
A Russian Proton rocket perfectly placed the new module in orbit, but problems arose almost immediately.
A problem with the spacecraft’s engines has left 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 will eventually attach to the station, it flew as an autonomous spacecraft for several days in orbit. The module deployed its solar panels and antennas, but failed to fire motors to elevate its orbit, a problem that could end the mission. Russian engineers managed to fix it, said the European Space Agency, calling the episode a few “hectic days at mission control.”
Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, never directly addressed the issues in its updates on the mission, only noting in a press release last Thursday that the module’s thrusters were in fact working. “The telemetry confirmed the operability of the module’s propulsion unit,” Roscosmos said in the statement.