On Thursday, Russia’s new science lab module docked with the International Space Station. One accidental firing of its thrusters later, however, and the station was knocked out of position.
The ISS’s brief escapade lasted a total of 47 minutes, during which the crew lost control of the craft’s orientation. Since the ISS needs to maintain a certain orientation to keep its solar panels well illuminated and its antennas in contact with Earth, ground control further reports that communications with the station were completely cut off twice, for a few minutes each time, during the whole adventure.
A space odyssey
“We haven’t noticed any damage,” space station program manager Joel Montalbano said in a late afternoon press conference. “There was no immediate danger at any time to the crew.”
The ISS moved 45 degrees out of attitude, which is one-eighth of a complete circle, and never entered a spinning pattern. The crew themselves didn’t feel any movement or shaking of the ship, according to NASA. Flight controllers eventually re-positioned the station using the thrusters on other Russian components docked to the ISS, the agency explains, which ties this whole story arc up in a neat little bow.
The perpetrator of this whole story is Russia’s long-delayed 22-ton (20-metric-ton) lab module Nauka. It arrived at the station on Thursday, eight days after being launched from a facility in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Nakua is meant to give the crew more space to live and carry out experiments in, and has been scheduled to reach the station in 2007. However, technical issues have repeatedly delayed its launch. While these issues were addressed, various modernizations and structural repairs were also carried out.
Still, Nakua has the distinction of being the first Russian element of the ISS to be added since 2010. The Pirs spacewalking compartment, an older Russian element, was undocked from the ISS to make room for Nakua. The lab is 43 feet (13 meters) long. Multiple spacewalks and work hours will be needed to have it fully up and running, as is the case with most such modules.
“Spaceflight is hard, and when we bring on new capabilities there can be glitches, which is why we prepare and train for these contingencies,” said Kathy Lueders, associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.