Russia’s troubled Nauka laboratory module has caused a fright when its rockets accidentally fired after docking the with the International Space Station, briefly throwing the station out of position.
A few hours after docking, Nauka’s propulsive devices unexpectedly fired, forcing personnel aboard the ISS to fire thrusters on the Russian segment of the station to counter the effect.
The module started firing “inadvertently and unexpectedly, moving the station 45 degrees out of attitude,” Nasa said on Twitter. “Recovery operations have regained attitude and the crew is in no danger.”
Russia’s Roscosmos space agency attributed the issue to Nauka’s engines having to work with residual fuel in the craft, Tass news agency reported.
The mission comes after more than a decade of delays and as Russia seeks to boost its space industry, which has fallen behind since the collapse of the Soviet Union and struggles to keep up with competition from the United States.
The Nauka module blasted off last week from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, carried by a Russian Proton rocket, and represents Russia’s first docking of an ISS module in 11 years.
Earlier, Roscosmos showed the new addition to its segment of the ISS docking with the nadir (Earth-facing) port of the Zvezda service module at 1329 GMT. “There is contact!!!” Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin tweeted.
It will now take several months and multiple spacewalks to fully integrate the module with the space station.
The launch was closely watched by the European Space Agency because the module was travelling with the European Robotic Arm, the first robot arm that will be able to work on Russia’s ISS segment.
Nauka – which means “science” in Russian – will be primarily used for research and storing laboratory equipment. It will also provide more storage space, new water and oxygen regeneration systems and improved living conditions for cosmonauts of the Russian ISS sector.
The Nauka multipurpose laboratory module was conceived as early as the mid-1990s when it was intended as a back-up for the Russian control module Zarya.
It was later repurposed as a science module but joined a lineup of stagnating Russian space projects that have fallen victim to funding problems or bureaucratic procedures.
The launch of the 20-tonne Nauka – one of the largest modules on the ISS – was initially scheduled for 2007 but has been repeatedly delayed over various issues.
While last week’s launch was successful, Nauka experienced several “hiccups in orbit” during its eight-day journey to the ISS, the European Space Agency said.
“We won’t lie … We had to worry for the first three days,” Rogozin told journalists after Nauka had docked, according to the RIA Novosti news agency.
Nauka replaces the long-serving Pirs docking module, which joined the ISS in 2001 as a temporary addition but ended up staying in service for two decades.
Making room for Nauka, Pirs detached from the ISS earlier this week, its burnt-up remains falling into the Pacific Ocean.
Launched in 1998 and involving Russia, the United States, Canada, Japan, and the European Space Agency, the ISS is one of Russia’s few remaining collaborations with the west.
In April, Russia said it was considering withdrawing from the ISS programme citing ageing infrastructure, and is planning to launch the first core module of a new orbital station in 2025.
Russia has announced a series of projects in recent years, including a mission to Venus and a station on the moon, but as the Kremlin diverts funding to military ventures, analysts question the feasibility of these ambitions.