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Russia’s “Nauka” Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM) successfully connected with the International Space Station on Thursday, July 29. Not long after, however, the flight control team noticed the module’s thrusters were unexpectedly firing, temporarily pushing the station out of orientation.
As Russian cosmonauts were preparing to open the hatches that would connect the Nauka to the ISS, the ship’s movement thrusters started firing and the space station began losing attitude control. Obviously, that was problematic.
The ISS needs to maintain a certain attitude in order to keep its signal with geostationary satellites and continue communicating with Mission Control. The station’s positioning needs to stay the same so that its solar arrays can optimally collect power. Its structure was also in jeopardy, as it was assembled in microgravity and designed to work in zero gravity. If its position was shifted too much, stress from G forces could cause cracks or other structural issues.
Since then, however, ground teams were quickly able to right the station and regain attitude control. No information was released regarding the seriousness of the situation. By Thursday afternoon, NASA officials held a briefing teleconference. Joel Montalbano, NASA’s space station program manager, said, “Until you exhaust all your contingency plans, you’re not really starting to worry. And we didn’t do that today.”
Unfortunately, the event caused a delay for Friday’s scheduled launch of a Starliner spacecraft, which had already dealt with a previous delay in December of 2019 caused by software problems. Boeing has agreed to a second test mission of Starliner, which NASA moved to no earlier than Tuesday, August 3, at 1: 20pm EDT from Florida. If that goes according to plan, we can expect to see Starliner dock with the ISS on Wednesday, August 4.
In the meantime, Russian cosmonauts are continuing to work on integrating its large Nauka ship with the ISS. It features crew quarters and an airlock for scientific experiments. Neither the Russian crew nor the crew aboard the ISS were ever in any danger from the thruster firing, and Mission Control Houston is now (more) closely monitoring the station in its orbit.
via Ars Technica