Russia has docked its new science module to the International Space Station, after 14 years of delays

·3 min read
nauka module spaceship with solar array wings approaches international space station
A screenshot from NASA's livestream shows the Nauka module approaching its port on the International Space Station, July 29, 2021. NASA via Youtube

Russia has finally delivered a long-awaited science module to the International Space Station.

The new module, a 43-foot-long cylinder called Nauka (meaning "science" in Russian), approached the ISS on Thursday morning. The spaceship inched forward slowly, aligning itself exactly with the ISS port that was waiting to receive it. Its docking system met the port at 9:29 a.m. ET and locked into place, forming a seal so that cosmonauts could open the hatch and access their new facilities.

Nauka gives the Russian side of the ISS expanded science facilities, crew quarters, and a new airlock for spacewalks. It also features a new docking port for Russian spacecraft.

The module was originally scheduled to launch in 2007, but technical issues and unexpected repairs led to years of delay.

"This is a very difficult and important victory for us," Dmitry Rogozin, director general of Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, said on Twitter after docking.

NASA broadcasted live footage of Nauka docking to the ISS on Thursday morning. Watch the video below.

The new module is not fully integrated into the ISS yet, though. Cosmonauts will need to conduct about 11 spacewalks to set up electronics on the outside of the module, according to Spaceflight Now.

Russia's old module burned up in Earth's atmosphere

To clear a port for Nauka, Russia's 20-year-old Pirs docking station detached from the ISS on Saturday. Pirs first arrived at the space station in 2001, and it has served as a receiving station for cargo-carrying Progress capsules and astronaut-ferrying Soyuz spaceships.

russian progress spaceship docked to international space station
A Russian Progress cargo spaceship, docked to the Pirs docking compartment on the International Space Station's Russian segment, June 2, 2021. NASA

After Pirs undocked, a Progress spacecraft towed it into Earth's atmosphere. As gravity pulled the old module down, the bulk of it burned up in the atmosphere. The parts that survived fell into the Pacific Ocean.

Nauka had mid-flight issues on its way to the ISS

proton m rocket fires engines blasts off from launchpad carrying nauka module
A Proton-M rocket carrying the Nauka module blasts off from the launchpad at Russia's space facility in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, July 21, 2021. Roscosmos Space Agency Press Service/AP

Nauka, which is also known as the Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM), didn't have a smooth journey to the ISS.

Shortly after launching on July 21, Nauka started malfunctioning. It didn't complete the first engine burn that was supposed to push it into a higher orbit above Earth. The module needed to gain altitude so that gravity wouldn't pull it into the atmosphere, where it would burn up. So Russian mission controllers instructed the module to fire its backup thrusters to push itself higher.

man in white lab coat stands in front of nauka module port opening in lab room
A specialist of the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Centre works on preparations of the Nauka module, July 31, 2020. Sergei Karpukhin/TASS/Getty Images

Over the next few days, Nauka fired its thrusters several times to move into the right orbital path. Those "corrective maneuvers" put it on track to reach the ISS.

This post has been updated with new information. It was originally published on July 28, 2021.

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