New major Russian ISS module set to launch tomorrow

Nauka sits ready to go after years of preparation. Credit: Roscosmos

JULY 20, 2021–Meet Nauka, the International Space Station’s latest addition. The Russian Multipurpose Laboratory Module is set for its July 21st launch date, having rolled out to its launch site the morning of July 17th. Nauka will be the largest single module added to the ISS since the Kibō Pressurized Module, which was launched aboard Space Shuttle Discovery in May of 2008.

Nauka has been in the works for the Russian segment of the International Space Station since 2004. Originally built as FGB-2 to be a backup for the Zarya Functional Cargo Block (FGB-1), it was 70% complete when Zarya launched in 1998. After consideration from Roscosmos, they scrapped the plans for the two Russian Research Modules to instead focus on converting FGB-2 into a fully operational module named Nauka, which was scheduled to launch in 2007 aboard a Proton-K rocket.

However, this 2007 launch date would not be met as Nauka would suffer from many issues during conversion, nearly getting scrapped in 2014. Despite the numerous issues faced, a political push in 2015 led to Roscosmos committing to the completion of the module for a flight in 2019. This delay also led to the launch being shifted from a Proton-K to a Proton-M rocket.

Nauka and its Proton rocket are lifted, ready to be transported to the launch site. Credit: Roscosmos

Nauka features a number of systems that will benefit the entire ISS. These include over 80m3 of pressurized volume, two 12 meter long solar arrays generating 2.5 kW (kilowatts) of power, and a new robotic arm, built by the European Space Agency. The module is 13 meters long and 4.5 meters in diameter but will be approximately 30 meters wide upon deployment of both solar arrays.

The launch of Nauka will take place on July 21st at 1:58 PM local time (10:58 AM EDT). Its Proton-M carrier rocket will launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome Site 200-39. This pad was used historically to launch the core of the Mir space station, and more recently the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter mission which launched in 2016.

Following the launch of Nauka, it will wait in orbit for the Pirs module to be disconnected from Zvezda’s nadir port, where it will subsequently be deorbited by the Progress MS-16 spacecraft, which is currently docked to the ISS. Pirs will burn up during reentry and will be the first “permanent” component of the ISS to be deorbited.

Nauka will then dock to the port vacated by Pirs and will undergo multiple tests by the Expedition 65 crew to ensure safe entry and operations of the module. This includes fully attaching the spacecraft to the module outside of just the SSVP docking mechanism. It will also temporarily serve as a docking port for the Russian segment of the ISS. In September, the Prichal module will launch on a modified Progress-MS spacecraft, known as Progress M-UM, to tackle docking operations, similar to how the Poisk module was delivered.

Delivery of the Poisk module to the ISS. Credit: NASA

While it’s over a decade late, Nauka will be a welcome addition to the aging Russian segment of the ISS. The extra storage, new scientific equipment, and updated docking mechanisms will likely help extend the operational life of the ISS.

You can watch the launch of Nauka live on NASA TV. Coverage begins at 10:30 a.m. EDT.

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