Russia successfully docked its ailing Nauka laboratory module to the International Space Station on Thursday after more than a decade of delays, the country’s Roscosmos space agency said.
The mission comes 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.
“There is contact !!! Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin said on Twitter as Russia completed the first docking of an ISS module in 11 years.
The images released by Roscosmos showed the new addition to the Russian segment of the ISS docking at port nadir (facing Earth) of the Zvezda service module at 13:29 GMT.
It will now take several months and several spacewalks to fully integrate the module into the space station.
The Nauka module took off last week from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, carried by a Russian Proton rocket.
The launch was closely monitored by the European Space Agency as the module traveled with the European robotic arm, the first robotic arm that will be able to operate on the Russian segment of the ISS.
– Decades in the making –
Nauka – which means “science” in Russian – will be used primarily for research and storage of laboratory equipment.
It will also offer more storage space, new water and oxygen regeneration systems and improved living conditions for cosmonauts in the Russian sector of the ISS.
The Nauka Multipurpose Laboratory Module was designed as early as the mid-1990s when it was intended to serve as a support for the Russian Zarya Control Module.
It was later reused as a science module, but joined a series of stagnant Russian space projects that fell victim to funding issues or bureaucratic procedures.
The launch of the 20-ton Nauka – one of the largest modules on the ISS – was originally scheduled for 2007, but has been repeatedly delayed due to various issues.
While last week’s launch was a success, Nauka experienced several “hiccups in orbit” during its eight-day trip to the ISS, the European Space Agency said.
“We will not lie … We must have been worried for the first three days,” Rogozin told reporters after Nauka docked, according to the RIA Novosti news agency.
Nauka replaces the long-standing Pirs docking module, which joined the ISS in 2001 as a temporary addition but ended up remaining in service for two decades.
Giving way to Nauka, Pirs broke away from the ISS earlier this week, consuming itself primarily in Earth’s atmosphere and its remains falling into the Pacific Ocean.
– The future of Russia on the ISS –
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 as tensions continue to simmer. on a litany of problems.
The ISS is divided into two sections: the Russian orbital segment operated by Russia and the rest managed by the United States and other partners.
For years, the US space agency NASA depended on Russia to transport its astronauts to the ISS and paid millions of dollars for a seat on a Soyuz rocket.
But last year, Russia lost its monopoly on manned flights to the ISS after the successful mission of Space X, the company owned by US billionaire Elon Musk.
In April, Russia said it plans to pull out of the ISS program citing aging infrastructure and plans to launch the first base module of a new orbital station in 2025.
Russia has announced a series of plans in recent years, including a mission to Venus and a station on the moon, but as the Kremlin diverts funding for military companies, analysts question the feasibility of these ambitions. .
© 2021 AFP