Russia’s newly launched Nauka module for the International Space Station continues to fight on Sunday afternoon, as early reports indicate that the backup module has successfully fired. For Roscosmos, who has almost seen his long awaited module as a tragic piece of space rather than the next piece of the International Space Station, this is a great relief. However, it’s not yet out of the woods.
The first failure occurred yesterday on Nauka’s journey when the spacecraft did not finish its first orbital burn. This meant that the uncrewed Nauka did not intercept the ISS, with which it was planned to dock on Thursday, 29 July. The incident was linked to a software glitch on a Nauka computer, which stopped the main engines of the spaceship from igniting. A remote course correction was managed by Nauka’s crew, but a second part of the course correction was judged necessary and planned for today. An early report by writer Anatoly Zak claimed that one of the engines of the spacecraft flickered back into mission life. Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said today in an email that “the backup engine seems fine,” although he added that the status of the engines was still not sure and it would probably be several hours before a Nauka-based dataset verified the situation.
The thrusters are merely a part of the engineering problem, so that the new module is barely free at home. Nauka also had problems with an antenna and its docking target and was unsure how these problems would affect docking efforts, SpaceNews reported. “The rendezvous system in Kurs apparently still has problems and this is quite crucial for docking,” McDowell said, adding that the TORU system of the spacecraft – which enables the astronauts on the ISS to help with docking – is normal.
For now, the Pirs docking room is located in the assigned ISS dock at Nauka. Pirs’ intended undocking to make way for the new module has been postponed, according to RussianSpaceWeb, from Friday to Sunday.
“There is no special teething issue for complicated spacecraft. The quantity and severity of difficulties on this flight is nevertheless above standard and probably not surprising because of extensive delays in vehicle development. I am nevertheless reasonably optimistic that, albeit not necessarily on the first attempt, they will finally achieve a successful dockage, “McDowell added.
On this spacecraft, keep your eyes. This tale probably has a twist or two remaining.