Earlier this year, Russian space officials were talking about pulling out of the International Space Station in 2025. But that didn’t stop them from sending up a new addition to their segment of the outpost. It’s called the Nauka module, and its design and development began more than 20 years ago.
The module fills a gap in the Russian portion of the station for a capsule intended for science experiments, and is seen as important for the entire Russian program. It will also provide an assortment of other improvements to Russia’s section of the station.
Here’s what you need to know about the Nauka module and its arrival to the space station on Thursday.
When is the docking and how can I watch it?
The new Russian module is scheduled to arrive at the space station on Thursday around 9:25 a.m. Eastern time.
NASA TV will stream live coverage at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time. Viewers who want to watch the operation in Russian can tune into the YouTube page of Roscosmos, the Russian space agency.
What is the Nauka module?
Nauka was originally constructed as a backup for another Russian module, Zarya, and later repurposed. Nauka in Russian means science, fitting it main mission: housing laboratory equipment for experiments.
Beyond that, the module includes a radiation-insulated cabin with additional living room for astronauts, a toilet, new water recycling and air filtering systems, storage space, and a robotic arm provided by the European Space Agency.
With a weight of more than 20 tons and a length of more than 42 feet, Nauka is set to become one of the largest modules on the station. A series of spacewalks will be needed to hook it up to the station’s electrical and command 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 went aloft and long before the current political tensions with the United States, which have raised the prospects of Russia quitting the space station by 2025.
Its launch was repeatedly delayed by manufacturing flaws and underfinancing, leaving a gap 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 coming from the American side. Additional habitable space, including a bed for one astronaut, will make it possible for the permanent Russian crew to be expanded to three members.
What problems did the module have after it launched?
A Russia Proton rocket flawlessly lofted the new module into orbit, but problems appeared almost immediately.
A glitch with the spacecraft’s engines had scientists back 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 journey,” 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 then failed to fire engines to raise its orbit, a potentially mission-ending problem. Russian engineers managed to correct it, the European Space Agency said, characterizing the episode as a few “hectic days at mission control.”
Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, never directly addressed the problems in its updates on the mission, noting only in a news release last Thursday that the module’s thrusters were, in fact, operating. “Telemetry confirmed the module propulsion unit operability,” Roscosmos said in the statement.