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Russia's Nauka multi-purpose lab module docks to space station

July 29, 2021

— The International Space Station has gained a new room after a 13-year wait for its launch and a week-long journey in Earth orbit.

Russia's Multi-purpose Laboratory Module (MLM), named "Nauka" ("Science" in Russian), docked to the space station on Thursday (July 29), eight days after its more-than-decade-long delayed launch. The 22-ton (20-tonne) MLM connected with the orbiting complex at 9:29 a.m. EDT (1329 GMT), using an open port that was recently vacated by the Pirs docking compartment on the Earth-facing side of the Zvezda service module.

"Congratulations, that was not an easy docking," Russia's mission control radioed Novitskiy, who monitored the approach and was ready to take over manual control from on board the space station.

Update: About three hours after the Nauka MLM docked, as work was underway to open the hatches leading into the new module, the MLM began to unexpectedly fire its thrusters, throwing the space station out of its normal orientation by about 45 degrees. Thrusters on the Zvezda service module and a Progress cargo craft were used to counteract the errant MLM firings, and attitude control was regained about 20 minutes later. The station does not appear to have suffered any damage from the loss of attitude control and the crew was never in danger. Russian flight controllers disabled the thrusters to avoid the issue from reoccurring.

Now secured in place by hooks and latches, the 43-foot-long by 14-foot-wide (13 by 4.3 m) Nauka will live up to its name, providing expanded science capabilities for the Russian segment of the station, as well as fulfilling multiple other purposes.

"It will provide roll control for the International Space Station; it will provide propellant transfer between the Progress vehicles — the unpiloted cargo ships — that will arrive in the months and years to come; and it will serve as a docking port for piloted Soyuz and unpiloted Progress vehicles," NASA commentator Rob Navias said of the new module. "It will also serve as a docking port for a node module — a multi-hatched docking port — that is to be launched by the Russians later this year for additional vehicles and components to be attached to it, as the ever-expanding Russian segment of the International Space Station continues."

The Nauka module also delivers and will serve as a base of operations for the European Robotic Arm, a 36-foot-long (11-m) manipulator built by the European Space Agency (ESA) to become the first exterior-mounted appendage designed specifically to service the Russian segment of the station. The module will also provide an additional crew quarters, a new toilet and house water and oxygen regeneration equipment, improving the conditions of cosmonauts' stays on the station and increasing the safety of the entire International Space Station crew.

Launched on July 21 atop a Proton-M rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the MLM conducted six corrective maneuvers, firing its engines to refine its approach to the space station. The eight-day rendezvous also provided the time for Russian flight controllers to test the module's communication antennas and its automated Kurs docking system, which were in use on Thursday.

It was only after Nauka was known to be in good working order that Roscosmos, Russia's state space corporation, proceeded with detaching the Pirs docking compartment to free the port on Zvezda for Nauka's arrival. The nearly 20-year-old Pirs, guided by an uncrewed Progress cargo spacecraft, was destroyed during its re-entry into Earth's atmosphere on Monday (July 26).

Developed jointly by RSC Energia, the prime contractor for Russia's activities in space, and the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, a division of Roscosmos, the Nauka module was based on the design of Russia's Almaz and Salyut space stations of the 1970s, leading up to the Zarya functional cargo block (FGB) and its backup for the International Space Station.

Originally targeted for launch in 2007, a series of technical issues delayed Nauka's deployment more than 13 years.

Nauka now joins four other pressurized modules to comprise the Russian segment of the International Space Station. In addition to the Zvezda service module and Zarya FGB, the segment also has two mini-research modules, Poisk and Rassvet. Nauka is Russia's largest contribution (by size) to the station and the country's first new addition since 2010.

Together with the U.S. operating segment, the space station now has a total of 14 pressurized modules.


Russia's Nauka multi-purpose logistics module docked to the Earth-facing side of the Zvezda service module at the International Space Station on Thursday, July 29, 2021. (NASA)

Infographic labeling the major components of Russia's Nauka multi-purpose laboratory module (MLM). (NASA TV)

Nauka multi-purpose laboratory module insignia. (Roscosmos)

Roscosmos' Nauka multi-purpose laboratory module seen being prepared for its launch at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (RSC Energia)

A Proton-M rocket lifts off with the Nauka multi-purpose laboratory module from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, July 21, 2021. (Roscosmos)

The Nauka multi-purpose laboratory module is seen on approach to a docking with the International Space Station, July 29, 2021. (Roscosmos)

Russia's Nauka multi-purpose laboratory module is seen after a successful docking to the International Space Station, July 29, 2021. (Roscosmos)

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