Nauka science module’s launch to ISS arrives

Good things come to those (modules) that wait.  On July 21, at 14:58:21 UTC (10:58:21… The post Nauka science module’s launch to ISS arrives appeared first on

Nauka science module’s launch to ISS arrives

Good things come to those (modules) that wait.  On July 21, at 14:58:21 UTC (10:58:21 EDT), a Proton-M rocket is due to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome to take the first Russian ISS module in 11 years to orbit.  The moment marks a major milestone for Roscosmos, which was originally slated to launch the module in 2007.

After launch and orbit insertion, the module, MLM-U Nauka, will perform an eight day phase to the Station for an automated docking on July 29 to the nadir docking port of the Zvezda service module, a port currently occupied by the Pirs module.

Nauka – the “long suffering” module

Upon arrival, Nauka will become the third largest module of

The main task for the Nauka module will be to conduct scientific experiments.  The pressurized compartment of the module contains 21 universal working places (URM), including four locations with sliding shelves, a glove box, a frame with an automatic rotating vibration-proof platform, and a porthole with a diameter of 426 mm for visual and instrumental observations.

Equipment to allow easier replacement of old experiments with new ones is also incorporated into Nauka’s internal design and is based on lessons learned from the early years of the ISS program. 

An additional 16 URMs are located on the outer surfaces of the module, which also has an airlock chamber and a European manipulator robotic arm, which will allow operations with experiments in the vacuum of space without performing EVAs.

The full name of the new module, MLM-U “Nauka” (which means “science”), stands for “Multifunctional laboratory module Nauka, improved.”  However, it is also somewhat lovingly referred to as the “long-suffering module” due to its numerous uses and launch date changes.

Initially, Nauka was built as a backup for FGB Zarya, the first module of the ISS.  Construction started in 1995, with a design based on the hull of the Soviet cargo ship TKS, itself a part of the Almaz military program which included orbital stations, a supply cargo ship, and crewed ships with reusable descent modules. 

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  • Nauka is in fact the last surviving, active part of the Almaz program, excluding the hulls and ships which were sold to the Excalibur-Almaz company and to museums for exhibition.  Nauka’s original use as a back up Zarya stemmed from the critical nature of the Zarya module to the overall ISS design; given a launch failure would have set the ISS program back years, Nauka was built as a “quick replacement” to Zarya in case the original module was lost in a launch failure.

    Zarya successfully launched on a Proton-K rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on November 20, 1998 and was grabbed by Shuttle Endeavour’s robotic arm, or Canadarm, on December 6 and manually docked to the Unity module.  At this point, Nauka, or FGB-2, as it was called originally, was already 80% complete and now no longer needed for its primary back-up role. 

    The same year as Zarya’s launch, the Khrunichev Center proposed creating a scientific module for the U.S. segment of the Station based on FGB-2 to replace Destiny, delivery of which from Boeing was running late.  While an agreement of intent was signed, Destiny was completed and successfully sent into orbit in 2001 while FGB-2 remained on Earth. 

    Not wanting to discard a nearly complete module, in 2004, Roscosmos decided to create a laboratory module based on it for the Russian segment of the ISS.  To do this, FGB-2 had to be completely reequipped — all systems that would have been needed as a Zarya back-up but that were no longer necessary for its use as a science module were removed to make room for scientific equipment.  

    Nauka undergoing checkouts and outfitting in 2020. (Credit: Katya Pavlushchenko)

    At the same time, Roscosmos partnered with the European Space Agency to install an 11 meter European robotic arm, the ERA, on the new module.  The European arm will be able to help cosmonauts access locations on the Station during spacewalks and remove and install equipment placed on the outer surface of the ISS. 

    The re-equipment process for FGB-2 was anticipated to take three years, resulting in a 2007 launch.  The module was formally renamed at this time to MLM Nauka.  However, as is often the case in the space industry, the proposed deadlines turned out to be too optimistic.  

    By 2006, two years into the refit, the launch was postponed to 2009 and then again to 2012.  In December 2012, with another launch delay added, the module was finally moved from the Khrunichev Center, where it was built, to RSC Energia for testing. 

    Here, a problem was discovered.

    In June 2013, RSC Energia specialists reported a large number of defects had been found in the module.  In particular, metal shavings were discovered contaminating fuel lines, which caused the launch date to be postponed to 2014 and the module itself was returned to the Khrunichev Center for pipeline cleaning.

    The procedures and bureaucracy took several months, including a slight rename to the module.  According to documents, since the module was already manufactured and fully paid for, it was legally necessary to call its repair an “upgrade.”  From that moment on, the letter “U,” which means “improved,” appeared in the name of the module. 

    Nauka, just before encapsulation for launch. (Credit: Roscosmos)

    At the end of 2013, the module was finally transported back to the Khrunichev Center and a new launch date was set for 2016.  However, checkout of all systems took three years, due to lack of funding, necessitating another slip to the launch date.

    In April 2017, specialists at the Khrunichev Center announced that the same metal shavings previously found in the fuel pipelines were found in the propellant tanks of the module as well.  This statement, combined with another long-term postponement of the launch, led many experts to question if Nauka would ever fly to orbit. 

    However, the new issue with the tank posed a problem: the propellant tanks for Nauka were made in the 1990s on equipment that no longer existed in 2017 at a factory that was already demolished using technology that now remained only as drawings.

    The module’s bellow refillable propellant tanks are 400-liter tanks installed on the outer surface of the housing of the module. These tanks are fueled with unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine and dinitrogen tetroxide.  From them, fuel travels to the orbital maneuvering engines, which are necessary for orbit correction and rendezvous maneuvers. 

    Officials were concerned that the metal shavings could travel into the engines and contaminate them, preventing the module from being able to dock with the ISS and burning up in the dense layers of the atmosphere instead.

    At first, engineers wanted to flush the tanks under pressure, but this procedure was not successful.  After that, cutting, washing and re-welding of the tanks was tested on a mockup of the module, but it was found that after such a procedure it would not be possible to restore the tanks to their proper condition and strength.  

    An internal cut-way showing the layout of Nauka. (Credit: Roscosmos)

    Additional ideas were considered to:

    • replace the existing propellant tanks with ones made for the Science and Power Module (NEM).  This was rejected because the tanks of NEM have a different diameter and it would require a redesign of the module and the fairing for Nauka.
    • replace the propellant tanks of Nauka with the ones from an upper stage Fregat.  A series of spherical Fregat tanks would have been fitted into the current dimensions of the module, but they would not be refuelable and would have demanded significant improvement of the whole propellant system of the module.
    • send Nauka to orbit with its regular propellant tanks as they were.

    The possibility of manufacturing new propellant tanks using old technology was not considered due to the lack of equipment for their production.  As a result, it was decided that Nauka would fly with its regular propellant tanks, which would now be used only once. 

    At the same time, numerous experts in the space industry noted that contamination with metal shavings of 100 microns in size could not affect the engines of the module and that given similar designs it is possible a similar contamination existed in the tanks of Zarya and in the tanks of the Mir station modules but that the older quality control methods couldn’t detect the shavings.  

    Some experts also noted that metal shavings are a consequence of the very design of the tanks and are formed with every movement of the bellows; therefore simply building new ones would not solve the issue.

    Nevertheless, over the intervening three years, all the original pipelines and valves were dismantled and replaced with new ones.  At the beginning of 2020, specialists began a new testing campaign of the Nauka module, and a new launch date was set: May 2021.  

    The tests lasted slightly longer than expected, and the new official launch date was set for July 15, 2021.  But the adventures of the “multi-suffering” module didn’t end there. 

    In early July 2021, when the fairing had already been installed over the module for launch, Nauka was suddenly returned to the assembly building.  According to the official version, shortcomings were found, but no further information was stated at first.

    The RussianSpaceWeb portal published a report stating that final assembly workers forgot to install the thermal vacuum insulation covers on the star tracker and infrared sensors.  This issue was missed by Roscosmos and apparently only spotted by spaceflight enthusiasts from images posted by the Russian space agency.  The module was returned to the assembly building, and the launch date was postponed again to July 21, 2021.


    At 20,350 kg mass, Nauka is near the upper limit of what the Proton-M rocket can deliver to low Earth orbit (LEO). 

    With a lift capability of 23,000 kg to LEO, the Proton-M will lift off from Site No. 200/39 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, pitching onto an azimuth, or compass heading, to achieve a 51.6 degree inclination orbit.

    The Proton-M for this mission is a three stage-to-orbit rocket, with all stages burning the highly toxic dinitrogen tetroxide and unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine mixture.

    The first stage employs six RD-275M engines arranged around the circumference of the first stage tanks.  A hot-stage event, where the second stage ignites while the first stage is still attached and firing, will hand off between the two lower stages.

    The Proton-M rocket with Nauka safely in its payload fairing sits on Site No. 200/39 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome surrounded by the Kazakh steppe. (Credit: Roscosmos)

    Payload fairing separation will occur at an altitude of 138 km approximately 330 seconds into the flight.

    The third stage, 8S812, will then complete the launch sequence, placing Nauka into an almost complete parking orbit of 190 x 350.1 km in the orbital plane of the International Space Station after a 580 second ascent

    Once in orbit, Nauka will deploy solar panels and begin eight days of system checkouts and rendezvous burns to gradually raise its orbit up to the 415 km altitude of the Station.  If all goes to plan, Nauka will dock itself to the ISS — under the watchful eye of Mission Control, Moscow, and the Russian crew onboard the Station — on Thursday, July 29.

    However, Nauka’s destination on the Station is currently occupied by the Pirs docking compartment — which itself has the Progress MS-16 vehicle docked to it.  

    If Nauka is declared “go” for arrival to the ISS after a successful launch and initial orbital checkout over July 21 and 22, the Progress MS-16 vehicle will remove the Pirs module from the Zvezda nadir docking port on Friday, July 23 at 13:17 UTC / 09:17 EDT to make room for Nauka.

    Pirs will not be removed from the Station until Nauka receives post-launch clearance to proceed with its mission as Pirs is a critical docking port and module for the ISS until Nauka is ready to take its place.  Nevertheless, Pirs will not be brought back to the ISS but will instead remain gripped by Progress MS-16 as the craft deorbits for a destructive reentry into Earth’s atmosphere — making Pirs the first ISS module to be decommissioned and removed from the outpost.  

    Six days after Pirs’ permanent departure, Nauka is scheduled to perform the final rendezvous sequence with the ISS and dock itself to the Zvezda service module’s nadir location on July 29 at 13:25 UTC / 09:25 EDT.

    (Lead image: A Proton-M ignites its engine ahead of liftoff from Baikonur Site 200/39. Credit: Roscosmos)

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    Blue Origin launches first crewed flight with four crew, including founder Jeff Bezos and “Mercury 13” aviatrix Wally Funk

    Blue Origin has flown a crew of four onboard a New Shepard rocket on an… The post Blue Origin launches first crewed flight with four crew, including founder Jeff Bezos and “Mercury 13” aviatrix Wally Funk appeared first on

    Blue Origin launches first crewed flight with four crew, including founder Jeff Bezos and “Mercury 13” aviatrix Wally Funk

    Blue Origin has flown a crew of four onboard a New Shepard rocket on an 11-minute long suborbital spaceflight. It was the first time humans fly onboard the vehicle, making its sixteenth flight since its debut in April 2015.

    Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos and his brother Mark were aboard the crew capsule for the flight, along with 82-year old Wally Funk, who is an accomplished female pilot, instructor, and air accident investigator, and a member of what was unofficially known as the “Mercury 13”, a group of women that passed the same physiological tests to become an astronaut that the male “Mercury 7″ did.

    While Wally Funk became the oldest person ever in space, surpassing John Glenn at age 77, she was joined by the youngest person ever in space. 18-year old Oliver Daemen, the son of the second-highest bidder in the auction for a seat on this flight, joining the NS-16 crew after the winning bidder (with a $28 million bid) chose to take a later flight, citing “schedule conflicts.”

    New Shepard flight NS-16 launched from Blue Origin’s suborbital launch facility on the Corn Ranch, a large property purchased by Jeff Bezos, in the desert near Van Horn, Texas.

    The Van Horn launch facility is the first entirely private space launch complex to host a crewed flight, compared to Spaceport America, which received hundreds of millions of dollars in funding from the state of New Mexico before supporting SpaceShipTwo flights. The NS-16 mission also flew the first-ever paying suborbital space tourist, although paying tourists have flown aboard Soyuz missions to the International Space Station.

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  • The four NS-16 crewmembers stayed in the astronaut village near the launch facility and underwent two days of training before their flight. They were trained on everything they need to know to fly aboard New Shepard, including procedures for off-nominal and emergency situations and how to use emergency equipment.

    The New Shepard capsule can accommodate six people, but for this flight, only four flew. The Blue Origin hospitality team hosted the Bezos brothers, Wally Funk, Oliver Daemen, and two “Crewmember 7” employees (so named to help the normal crew of six) assigned to the NS-16 crew to assist them.

    The booster, known as Tail 4, was filled with cryogenic liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen at T-3 hours before launch, and the crew boarded the capsule 45 minutes before liftoff. The Crewmember 7 employees stayed on the ground to assist the four crew members during boarding and the flight, and the countdown proceeded with systems checks and then crew arm retraction around T-2 minutes.

    The New Shepard’s single BE-3 engine, capable of up to 110,000 lbs of thrust, ignited at T-0, and the launch restraints were released at T+6 seconds. New Shepard climbed vertically and reached Max Q at T+1 minute and 28,000 feet altitude, and the BE-3 cut off at T+2:20, at 178,000 feet altitude and a speed of Mach 3.

    New Shepard lifts off on the NS-15 mission – via Jack Beyer for NSF.

    The New Shepard capsule and booster coasted together until capsule separation around T+3 minutes. The capsule passed the Karman line at 100 kilometers around T+3:45 and reached apogee about 20 seconds later. The NS-16 crew had a view of space and Earth through six large windows, able to float in the cabin and experience approximately four minutes of microgravity before they needed to be in their seats for re-entry.

    The booster and capsule travel slowly enough to don’t need an extensive amount of heat shielding as an orbital spacecraft would. After deploying its ring and wedge fins at the top of the stage, the booster relit its engine, which can deep throttle to 20 percent of its rated power, deploy its landing gear, and hover over its landing pad before touching down around the T+7:30 mark.

    The capsule with the NS-16 crew deployed its three drogue chutes around 5,000 feet altitude, and the main chutes deployed around the T+8:45 mark at 2,500 feet. The capsule touched down at a speed of around 16 miles per hour on the desert floor around the T+10:30 mark after firing a small retrorocket, in a manner similar to the Soyuz capsule before its landing, to cushion the impact of the touchdown.

    The NS-16 crew was retrieved after a crew drove to the touchdown site and opens the hatch on the capsule. Family members of the crew were driven to the touchdown site as well to greet the new spacefarers. The recovery crew began the process of safing the capsule before it. The booster is recovered and prepared for its next flight, which Blue Origin hopes will be in the September/October timeframe, as part of its plan to fly two more New Shepard missions in 2021.

    New Shepard Tail 4 after landing during the NS-15 mission – via Blue Origin

    After fifteen successful uncrewed tests of the New Shepard crew capsule and fourteen successful landings of the New Shepard booster, on May 5th, the 60th anniversary of Alan Shepard’s flight into space, Blue Origin announced that flight NS-16 would launch six crewmembers on July 20, the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing.

    The announcement of the first human flight of New Shepard was at least fifteen years in the making. Blue Origin was founded in 2000 by Amazon founder and then-CEO Jeff Bezos, who stated that he wanted to see millions of people living and working in space. New Shepard development started in 2006 and proceeded with the usual delays and challenges inherent in spaceflight projects.

    In 2012 the New Shepard program successfully completed a pad abort test, and test flights of the fully reusable capsule/booster combination began in the spring of 2015. The first flight successfully flew the capsule, but the booster crashed on landing.

    After rework, the second booster, called Tail 2, successfully made test flights in 2015 and 2016, with the capsule going over the FAI’s Karman line at 100 kilometers, marking its designation of space. Tail 2’s last test flight in late 2016 successfully tested the in-flight abort capability of the vehicle, igniting a solid rocket motor placed in the center of the capsule, extending from the floor of the crew cabin to the bottom of the capsule.

    Tail 2 was retired and moved to Blue Origin’s orbital launch system factory at Cape Canaveral, Florida, where it stands in the lobby. The next booster, Tail 3, successfully launched on December 12, 2017, along with crew capsule version 2.0, which flew with windows for the first time. Later missions with Tail 3 included flying the instrumented “Mannequin Skywalker” and a number of NASA and commercial experiments and a landing system test for the Artemis program. A successful high altitude abort test was performed as well.

    Jeff Bezos and others inspect the New Shepard Capsule 2.0 following the NS-7 mission – via Blue Origin.

    While one booster/capsule combination would remain dedicated for payloads, Tail 4 would become the first New Shepard booster (known as the Propulsion Module) that would be rated for human flight, and the first fully equipped crew capsule that could make tourist flights was built alongside this vehicle. Its first flight was on January 14.

    Tail 4 launched again on April 14, on mission NS-15, which was a dress rehearsal for Tuesday’s crewed flight. Four Blue Origin employees began the boarding process, and two of them boarded the crew capsule during the countdown before leaving the ship a few minutes later. NS-15 successfully launched to an altitude of 348,000 feet (106 kilometers) before the booster and capsule touched down successfully. Next, employees performed an ingress and egress test on the capsule as it lay on the desert floor.

    Three weeks after the NS-15 flight, the crewed NS-16 mission was announced, and Jeff and Mark Bezos were announced as two of the crewmembers who would fly to space. One of the seats was auctioned off afterward, and Wally Funk was named as a crewmember in the meantime as an honored guest of Jeff Bezos.

    As the time for the flight drew closer, Sir Richard Branson announced that he was moving up his own flight to space to July 11 onboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, which was successfully completed.

    The “billionaire space race” has drawn headlines and controversy. However, Wally Funk’s inclusion in this flight marked a journey to space that has been sixty years in the making. In 1961, the flight instructor volunteered for the “Women in Space” program that was privately funded by aviatrix Jackie Cochran’s husband and run by Dr. William Lovelace, who had developed the physical and psychological tests that the “Mercury 7” astronauts had completed.

    Dr. Lovelace wanted to know if women could function as astronauts. So he invited 25 women to his clinic in New Mexico to take the same tests that the Mercury 7 astronauts did. Twenty women pilots ended up taking the Phase I physical tests, and thirteen of them passed, including the first female instructor pilot to operate at a military base, one Mary Wallace “Wally” Funk. In addition, the women scored better in a number of areas than the men who had taken these same tests.

    Three of the women, Funk, Geraldyn “Jerrie” Cobb, and Rhea Hurrle, made their way to Oklahoma City for Phase II psychological and isolation tank testing. Cobb also passed the Phase III advanced exams using military equipment and jet aircraft and scored in the top two percent of anyone who had taken all three phases regardless of gender. However, just before Funk and the others were to take part in Phase III tests, the US Navy denied Dr. Lovelace access to the program at the naval air station in Pensacola, Florida.

    Dr. Lovelace was forced to cancel the experiment, dubbed First Lady Astronaut Trainees, as he had run all of the tests he could with his own facilities. Some of the trainees lobbied Congress to allow women into the NASA program, and hearings were conducted, but NASA was unwilling to induct women into the program. Cochran herself lobbied against reinstating the program for reasons that are not entirely clear, and the Moon race had started in earnest, so NASA’s focus was elsewhere.

    The social climate at the time in the US was not conducive to allowing Wally Funk to fulfill her dream of going into space, and it would be a generation before Sally Ride flew on STS-7. In the 1990s, most of the First Lady Astronaut Trainees finally met for the first time as they had not been able to train as a group, and they were then dubbed the “Mercury 13.” Now one of their numbers is on the verge of going to space, at least for a few minutes.

    The New Shepard NS-16 flight, along with the Unity 22 flight earlier this month, finally marks the beginning of suborbital space tourist flights from U.S. soil, flights that have been promised since the turn of the century, and promise to finally expand the possibility of spaceflight to many that have not yet been able to experience the “overview effect” of seeing Earth from space.

    The post Blue Origin launches first crewed flight with four crew, including founder Jeff Bezos and “Mercury 13” aviatrix Wally Funk appeared first on

    Source : NASA More   

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