A heavy-lift Proton rocket sprang to life and lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday, sending a long-delayed 44,000-pound laboratory module into orbit for an eight-day flight to the.
The towering Proton, the most powerful rocket in Russian inventory, lifted off at 10:58 a.m. EDT (7:58 p.m. local time), rapidly moving away from the sprawling cosmodrome atop a long, flaming exhaust jet.
Nine minutes and 40 seconds later, the unmanned Nauka module, also known as the multipurpose laboratory module, or MLM, separated from the top stage of the Proton, deployed its solar panels and left after the space station.
The trip will last eight days, giving engineers and flight controllers time to check and test the new module in space and clear a docking port on the space station to make way for the arrival of the laboratory.
Russian flight controllers must first detach the two-decade-old docking and airlock compartment Pirs, currently connected to a port on the Earth-facing side of the station’s Zvezda aft module.
The Progress MS-16 / 77P cargo ship,at the station in February, is now moored in Pirs. At 9:15 a.m. on Friday, Progress will retreat, taking the Pirs module with it.
Three hours later, the freighter’s thrusters will fire to release the two spacecraft into the atmosphere where they both burn. The maneuver is programmed to ensure that any debris that survives the heat of re-entry will fall safely into the Pacific Ocean.
Following the removal of Pirs, NASA’s Canadian-built robotic arm will perform a detailed photographic inspection of the vacant Zvezda docking port to ensure that no debris is present that could prevent a tight seal with Nauka arriving.
Assuming no issues are found with Nauka or the docking port, the lab module will complete its space station rendezvous next Thursday, docking at the Zvezda port facing Earth at 8:25 a.m. on July 29. .
It will take up to 11 Russian spacewalks over about seven months to electrically connect and equip the new laboratory module, providing a new airlock, research space, living quarters, an Agency robotic arm European space and other systems.
The docking of Nauka will take place the day before a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket that launches a Boeing CST-100 Starliner crew capsule towards the station during an unmanned test flight.
The Starliner, like that of SpaceX already operational, is designed to transport US astronauts and partner agencies to and from the space station on a commercial basis.
An initialin December 2019, had major software glitches, prompting Boeing to launch a second unmanned test flight ahead of the ship’s first scheduled launch with a crew on board later this year.
For the test flight, the Starliner will dock in front of the Harmony module in front of the station.
To make way for the Boeing capsule, four of the station’s astronauts – Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, Thomas Pesquet and Akihiko Hoshide – boarded their Crew Dragon early Wednesday, undocked from the front port, buckled over the station and moored in Harmony space. facing the port.
If all goes well, the Starliner capsule will take off from the Cape Canaveral space station on top of its Atlas 5 rocket at 2:53 p.m. on July 30 and dock at the Liberated Forward Port of Harmony at 3:06 p.m. the next day.
The spacecraft will remain attached until Auguar 5, when it undocks, leaves orbit, and descends to a parachute-assisted landing in White Sands, New Mexico.
While the Starliner flight occupies US flight controllers, the Russians will focus on the newly arrived Nauka module.
The module is similar to the Russian-built, NASA-funded Zarya module, or FGB, which connects Zvezda to the US segment of the station. The FGB-2 was originally intended as a backup for Zvezda but construction was halted in the 1990s.
Roscosmos then decided to convert the unfinished module to an MLM setup in the early 2000s, but the launch was repeatedly delayed by various technical issues.
Once attached and equipped, the MLM / Nauka module will provide a crew airlock, experiment airlock, research facilities, another oxygen generator, new toilets, expanded living quarters and the robotic arm. European, or ERA.
The module is equipped with its own solar panels, thrusters and an independent guidance and navigation system to help orient the station as needed.
When initially outfitted, Russian cosmonauts will plug the module into power supplied by NASA during the first in a series of spacewalks. The power and data lines will be connected, the reception systems connected, the installation of a heat rejection radiator, preparations for airlocks and robotic arms and the installation of debris screens.