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Have you turned it off and on again? Russia’s Nauka module just about makes it to the ISS

Russia’s elderly Nauka module has made it to the International Space Station (ISS), some 25 years since construction of the research module began.

Despite a somewhat problematic start to life in space following its launch atop a Proton-M rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome, engineers were able to fire the engines of the veteran module in a number of orbital correction manoeuvres to bring Nauka to the ISS.

The problems continued up until the final moments, with issues activating the TORU manual operation system, iffy video and a wonderful “turn it back on and then turn it off” call by controllers as cosmonauts grappled with controls. However, the module was docked at 13:29:01 UTC with the port recently vacated by the Pirs module.

During the final few metres before capture and contact, cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky was instructed to fire up the manual controls. According to NASA’s live stream, Novitsky then guided the module in, although a later correction stated that the process had remained automatic. Either way, Novitsky received a hat tip from Mission Control: “That was not an easy docking…”

Roscosmos boss Dmitry Rogozin was in typically ebullient mood.

“According to Google Translate, that means “There is a touch!!!” followed by “From today on, foreigners are learning to pronounce a new Russian word – SCIENCE.”

The ISS crew will now spend the next few hours conducting leak checks before opening the hatch to the new addition.

While Roscosmos remained tight-lipped over the issues faced by engineers during the voyage, ESA spilled the beans in a blog post yesterday, confirming that not only did the spacecraft fail to complete its first orbital burn, the Kurs rendezvous system also required troubleshooting during the trek.

Roscosmos did not respond to The Register’s requests for clarification.

ESA has a stake in the success of the mission, having provided the European Robotic Arm (ERA) for the module. As well as additional lab facilities, Nauka also includes an extra sleeping pod and a new bathroom for cosmonauts.

So all’s well that ends well.

Meanwhile, back on terra firma

The expansion of the ISS with the long-awaited Russian module came as the UK took its own tentative steps toward the domestic launch capability enjoyed by Russia and the USA. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced today that spaceflight regulations had finally been passed.

The move is another step toward the launching of rockets from UK soil.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which has been regulating rocket activities under the Air Navigation Order 2016, has been appointed as the industry regulator and the first satellites are expected to be launched from a UK spaceport in 2022.

“This also puts the UK in a unique position as the first country in Europe able to launch spacecraft and satellites from home soil,” boasted the UK Space Agency.

We suspect Norway might have a thing or two to say about that. Like the UK, it is not part of the EU but it is a member of the European Economic Area. Munich-based Isar Aerospace, which recently extended its Series B funding round to over $165m, plans the first test flight of its Spectrum launch vehicle from Andøya, Norway, in 2022.

Regarding the UK regulations, Edinburgh-based rocketeer Skyrora told The Register: “The regulations have been published, printed and are now going to be put into practice by the independent spaceflight regulator. Skyrora, much like all UK space firms, will adopt a constructive approach and increase its engagement to ensure these regulations are fit for purpose.” ®




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