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Russian Nauka module on its way to International Space Station

A Russian Proton-M rocket launches the Nauka science module to orbit to begin an eight-day trek to the International Space Station. Credit: Roscosmos

A Russian Proton-M rocket launches the Nauka science module to orbit to begin an eight-day trek to the International Space Station. Credit: Roscosmos

After more than a decade’s worth of delays, the Russian-built Nauka science module has launched toward the International Space Station.

The Nauka module was launched atop a Proton rocket at 10:58 a.m. EDT (14:58 UTC) July 21, 2021, from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and reached orbit less than 10 minutes later. While the launch appeared to go according to plan, there is an early report that the module has experienced several technical problems shortly after reaching orbit. The exact nature of the issues is unclear.

A rendering of the Nauka science module attached to the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

A rendering of the Nauka science module attached to the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

Assuming all is well with the module, it should take about eight days to reach the ISS where it will dock with the Earth-facing port of the Zvezda module, which is currently being occupied by the 20-year-old Pirs module.

Pirs is set to be removed from the outpost on July 23 with the automated Progress MS-16 cargo ship. It’ll be deorbited later that day, becoming the first major ISS module to be decommissioned.

Nauka is one of the largest ISS modules ever launched. It’s mass is more than 20 metric tons. It’s 43 feet (13 meters) long and 14 feet (4.2 meters) wide. The module has two deployable solar panels that have a roughly 98-foot (30-meter) wingspan.

Inside, the module has a habitable volume of some 2,500 cubic feet (70 cubic meters). It includes an additional crew sleep station and a toilet, as well as an oxygen generator.

Once at the ISS, the module will eventually get an experiment airlock and deployable radiator attached to it, both of which are currently stowed on the Rassvet module.

In addition to being used for research experiments, Nauka is also designed to help with ISS attitude control and facilitate propellant transfer between Progress spacecraft and the propellant systems of Zvezda and Zarya, according to NASA.

The Nauka module in Baikonur being prepared for launch. Credit: Roscosmos

The Nauka module in Baikonur being prepared for launch. Credit: Roscosmos

Also launched with Nauka was the 37-foot-long (11.3-meter-long) European Robotic Arm, which will be able to support various tasks around the Russian segment of the outpost, including the installation and removal of experiment payloads, inspection of external ISS features and supporting astronauts and cosmonauts during spacewalks.

Nauka is nearly identical to the Zarya Functional Cargo Block, which was the first ISS module to be launched. That’s because Nauka started off as a backup to Zarya in case of a launch failure.

The configuration of the Russian segment of the International Space Station once Nauka is attached. Credit: NASA

The configuration of the Russian segment of the International Space Station once Nauka is attached. Credit: NASA

However, once Zarya was orbited successfully in 1998, Nauka (then just referred to as Functional Cargo Block 2) was ultimately repurposed to a science module intended to be launched in 2007.

Over the years, various issues caused delays, the most notable being in 2013 when metal shavings were found in the module’s propellent lines, requiring a complete revamp of the system.

The module was finally shipped to Baikonur for launch preparation in 2020 with launch expected in 2021. A July 15 day was ultimately set, but that was pushed to July 21.

Once Pirs is detached and Nauka docked in its place, several spacewalks are expected over the next few months to fully connect the module with the ISS.

Additionally, as early as November 2021, another Russian module, Prichal, is slated to launch to the ISS and dock with the Earth-facing port of Nauka.

Much smaller than Nauka and more comparable in size to the Pirs docking compartment, Prichal is a node module that is expected to serve as a potential location for future modules or additional ports for Progress or Soyuz spacecraft.

Video courtesy of Roscosmos

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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 blog about the International Space Station, called Orbital Velocity.

Reader Comments

Roscosmos had 14 years to prep this thing and still can’t get it right on the night.

It’s good the ISS gets the right attitude 🙂 – like stated in the text: “Nauka is also designed to help with ISS attitude control”

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