The International Space Station unexpectedly moved into orbit on Thursday when thrusters from a newly docked Russian module began firing uncontrollably. The thrusters reoriented the position of the football-sized laboratory up to 45 degrees, NASA said. The station is back under control, a NASA spokesperson said, and its crew of seven astronauts, including three American astronauts, are safe, according to the agency.
The spurious firing of the booster from Russia’s Nauka module, a new 23-ton multipurpose laboratory, began at 12:25 p.m. ET, hours after it docked with the ISS. Thrusters on the other side of the space station, from Russia’s Zvezda service module, fired to counter Nauka’s force in what NASA’s mission control communicator described as “tug-of-war. “.
“Just to keep you posted,” mission control communicator Drew Morgan told US astronauts in Houston, “right now we’re in a little tug-of-war between the thrusters pulling both [service module] and [Nauka]. We are currently sorting out the best course of action. “
About 10 minutes later, mission control in Houston and Moscow regained control of the station. ” The [Nauka] the thrusters aren’t firing, we’re back in attitude control, rates are stable, ”Morgan told US astronauts. “It’s safe to say the rest of the day won’t go as planned. “
NASA spokesman Rob Navias said the crew was safe. The incident forced NASA to postpone Boeing’s planned launch of its unmanned Starliner capsule to the ISS, which was scheduled for 2:53 p.m. ET on Friday. The next opportunity to launch the mission would be at 1:20 p.m. Tuesday, but NASA and the Air Force are deliberating on a possible time on Saturday.
Nauka, which means science in Russian, was launched from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan last Wednesday after weeks of 11-hour delays caused by issues with the module’s guidance system. Even though it was launched last week, the mod is unusually old – development began in 1995 and was originally scheduled for launch in 2007. But launch delays and several changes to its design and purpose have delayed its deployment of several years.
Nauka encountered problems almost immediately upon entering space. The spacecraft deployed its solar panels 13 minutes after launch without a hitch, but propulsion and communication issues prevented the spacecraft from entering its intended orbit. Engineers and mission control in Moscow scrambled to find a fix, ultimately powering up the spacecraft’s secondary thrusters to prevent Nauka from exiting orbit and burning in Earth’s atmosphere.
Nauka returned to normal orbit and continued his eight-day trek to the space station, where he docked independently.