Russia docked an extension module to the ISS – then it misfired

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A Russian lab module that will provide more room for experiments and the International Space Station (ISS) crew has successfully docked on the ISS.

However, the manoeuvre was not without its problems.

A few hours after the docking, the module’s rocket thrusters fired inadvertently and pushed the orbiting space lab out of control.

The seven crew members aboard – two Russian cosmonauts, three Nasa astronauts, a Japanese astronaut and a European space agency astronaut from France – were never in any immediate danger, according to Nasa and Russian state-owned news agency RIA.

But the malfunction prompted Nasa to postpone until at least Aug. 3 its planned launch of Boeing’s new CST-100 Starliner capsule on a highly anticipated uncrewed test flight to the space station.

The Starliner had been set to blast off atop an Atlas V rocket on Friday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Communication with the crew was lost for several minutes twice during the disruption, but ‘there was no immediate danger at any time to the crew,’ Montalbano said.

He said ‘the crew really didn’t feel any movement.’

Had the situation become so dangerous as to require evacuation of personnel, the crew could have escaped in a SpaceX crew capsule still parked at the outpost and designed to serve as a ‘lifeboat’ if necessary, said Steve Stich, manager of Nasa’s commercial crew program.

Following the docking of the Nauka module, the module’s thrusters started firing at 12:45 pm ET, moving the station out of orientation. Ground teams have regained attitude control and the motion of the space station is stable.

What caused the malfunction of the thrusters, has yet to be determined, Nasa officials said.

The now-stabilised Nauka module launched on July 21 on board the Proton-M booster rocket from the Russian space launch facility in Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

After eight days in free-flight the uncrewed 43ft-long module linked up to the port on the Earth-facing Russian segment of the ISS at 2.29pm on Thursday.

The new module will occupy the space vacated by the Pirs docking compartment, with the attached Progress 77 spacecraft which had called the ISS home for the past 20 years until Monday.

In order for Nauka to be prepared for operation, it will require a long series of manoeuvres, including up to 11 spacewalks beginning in early September.

Nauka, also called the Multipurpose Laboratory Module, will be a new science facility, docking port, and spacewalk airlock for future operations.

Its launch, initially scheduled for 2007, had been repeatedly delayed because of technical problems.

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