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Explained: What is Nauka, the module Russia sent to the International Space Station?

Nauka, meaning "science" in Russian, is the biggest space laboratory Russia has launched to date. It was sent into orbit on July 21, and will take eight days to reach the International Space Station.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
July 27, 2021 8:33:33 am
A Proton-M booster rocket carrying the Nauka module blasts off from the launch pad at Russia's space facility in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, July 21, 2021. (Roscosmos Space Agency Press Service photo via AP)

Russia’s uncrewed Nauka laboratory module docked with the International Space Station (ISS) yesterday (July 29) after an eight-day journey. After docking, the ISS was thrown off balance briefly when Nauka’s thrusters fired inadvertently. This malfunction has prompted NASA to delay the August 3 launch of Boeing’s new CST-100 Starliner capsule on a highly anticipated uncrewed test flight to the space station, Reuters reported.

Earlier this week, Russia detached Pirs from the ISS. In its place, Russia’s space agency Roscosmos attached the significantly larger module Nauka, which will serve as the country’s main research facility on the space station. The ISS is a pathbreaking collaborative effort between five participating space agencies: NASA (United States), Roscosmos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe) and CSA (Canada).

Nauka was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on July 21 using a Proton rocket and it will serve as a new science facility, docking port, and spacewalk airlock for the future operations.

What does Russia’s new Nauka module do?

Nauka, which is 43 feet long and weighs 20 tonnes, was supposed to be launched as early as 2007, as per the ISS’s original plan. However, due to a range of technical issues, the launch kept getting postponed.

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Nauka — meaning “science” in Russian — is the biggest space laboratory Russia has launched to date, and will primarily serve as a research facility. It is also bringing to the ISS another oxygen generator, a spare bed, another toilet, and a robotic cargo crane built by the European Space Agency (ESA).

The new module was sent into orbit using a Proton rocket — the most powerful in Russia’s space inventory — on July 21, and will take eight days to reach the ISS. During this period, engineers and flight controllers will test Nauka in space, and prepare for its arrival on the space station.

On the ISS, Nauka will be attached to the critical Zvezda module, which provides all of the space station’s life support systems and serves as the structural and functional centre of the Russian Orbital Segment (ROS) — the Russian part of the mammoth floating laboratory. According to a CBS News report, it will take up to 11 Russian spacewalks over seven months to fully integrate Nauka with the ISS.

The module that exited the Zvezda on Monday to make way for Nauka was called Pirs, meaning “pier” in Russian, a considerably smaller structure that was only used as a docking port for Russian spacecraft and allowed for cosmonauts to enter or leave the ISS for spacewalks. Pirs was pulled away from the ISS using a Progress MS-16/77P cargo ship, which had remained docked to the module since February.

Both Pirs and its cargo ship will get burned up as they enter the Earth’s atmosphere, and are expected to fall harmlessly into the Pacific Ocean.

Russia has successfully launched a long-delayed lab module for the International Space Station. (Roscosmos Space Agency Press Service photo via AP)

What kind of research goes on at the International Space Station?

A space station is essentially a large spacecraft that remains in low-earth orbit for extended periods of time. It is like a large laboratory in space, and allows astronauts to come aboard and stay for weeks or months to carry out experiments in microgravity.

For over 20 years since its launch, humans have continuously lived and carried out scientific investigations on the $150 billion ISS under microgravity conditions, being able to make breakthroughs in research not possible on Earth.

As per NASA, 243 people from 19 countries have so far visited the ISS. The floating laboratory has hosted more than 3,000 research and educational investigations from researchers in 108 countries and areas, carrying out cutting edge research in various disciplines, including biology, human physiology, and physical, material and space science.

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