A long-delayed Russian laboratory module docked with the International Space Station (ISS) Thursday, eight days after it was launched from Russia’s space facility in Kazakhstan.
The unmanned, 20-ton, nearly 13-meter-long Nauka (Science) module — also known as the Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM) — docked with the ISS following a long and, at times, uncertain journey.
The European Space Agency (ESA) says shortly after July 21 its launch from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the module deployed its solar panels and antennae as scheduled. But soon after, Russia’s mission control center in Moscow said the craft did not receive proper automated data commands and failed to complete an initial burn to raise its orbit.
The ESA says flight engineers spent the week running critical propulsion tests and carrying out orbital corrections on the module, which is designed to rendezvous and dock automatically with the ISS using its own engines.
The ESA monitored the module launch as it carried with it a robotic arm developed by the agency.
The troubled trip to the orbiting space station follows years of problems getting the module off the ground at all. The Nauka — designed to provide more room for scientific experiments and space for the crew — was initially scheduled to go up in 2007 but was repeatedly delayed because of technical problems. Contamination had been found in its fuel system, resulting in a long and costly replacement and other systems underwent modernization or repairs.
The Nauka is now the first new module in the Russian segment of the station since 2010. Russian crew members on the station had done two spacewalks to connect cables in preparation for the new arrival. On Monday, one of the older Russian modules, the Pirs spacewalking compartment, undocked from the space station to free up room for the new module.
The new module will require many operations, including up to 11 spacewalks beginning in September, to prepare it for operation.
Some information for this report came from the Associated Press and Reuters.