Nauka drama: Module thrusters fire errantly while docked to ISS
Just hours after safely docking with the International Space Station, the Nauka module’s thrusters began firing unexpectedly, causing the outpost to lose attitude control.
Not long after the ISS Expedition 65 crew, consisting of seven people, started opening the hatch to the newly-arrive module, Nauka’s thrusters began firing at about 12:45 p.m. EDT (16:45 UTC) July 29, 2021, causing the Zvezda service module to begin correcting the errant maneuvers as the outpost began drifting away from its normal orientation.
According to NASA, the ISS rotated up to about 45 degrees from its normal orientation. The agency stressed the crew was not in any danger.
NASA ground controllers immediately began directing the space station crew, commanded by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Aki Hoshide, to close all the outpost’s window shutters. They were also told to command the massive solar array wings into a safe configuration as the outpost began rotating.
“Just to update you guys, right now we’re in a little bit of a tug of war between thrusters firing from both the [service module] and the [Nauka module],” radioed Mission Control Center Houston shortly thereafter. “We’re sorting through the best course of action right now.”
A few minutes later, the crew was updated to say the Zvezda module was decreasing the attitude error and that the Progress MS-17 spacecraft, located on the space-facing Poisk module, took over correcting the outpost’s attitude.
At 1:30 p.m. EDT (17:30 UTC), NASA confirmed that attitude had returned to normal and Nauka was no longer firing.
Roscosmos is not sure why Nauka’s thruster began firing. However, it was expected to send commands to the module to disable its thrusters during the next Russian ground pass at about 2 p.m. EDT (18:00 UTC). It occurred while the thrusters were being integrated into the software and computer logic with the Zvezda service module.
Ground teams are expected to continue troubleshooting the issue while the ISS crew works to verify nothing was damaged during the incident.
This issue has also prompted NASA to call off tomorrows (July 30) launch of the Orbital Flight Test-2 Starliner mission. It was slated to dock with the forward port of the Harmony module on Saturday. The delay gives NASA and Roscosmos additional time to ensure the thruster issues doesn’t occur again. The weather for a Friday launch was also iffy at 50-50.
The next opportunity for launch is expected to be at 1:20 p.m. EDT (17:20 UTC) Aug. 3.
Video courtesy of Space Videos
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity.