Artist's rendering of the Nauka module docked to Zvezda.
The Nauka module at the Khrunichev factory

Nauka (Russian: Нау́ка; lit. Science), also known as the Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM), (Russian: Многофункциональный лабораторный модуль, or МЛМ), is a component of the International Space Station (ISS) which has not yet been launched into space. The MLM is funded by the Roscosmos. In the original ISS plans, Nauka was to use the location of the Docking and Stowage Module. Later, the DSM was replaced by the Rassvet module and it was moved to Zarya's nadir port. Planners anticipate Nauka will dock at Zvezda's nadir port, replacing Pirs.[1][2]

The launch of Nauka, initially planned for 2007, has been repeatedly delayed for various reasons. In May 2020, Nauka was reported to be planned for launch in the second quarter of 2021,[3] after which the warranties of some of Nauka's systems will expire. As of 4 February 2021, Nauka is planned for launch on 15 July 2021 and will be docked on 23 July 2021 to Zvezda's nadir port.[4][5]

Original plans

In the 1990s, plans for the Russian Orbital Segment (ROS) of the ISS included several research modules that were intended to be adjacent to Zarya and Zvezda. In these earlier plans, the now-canceled complex of the Universal Docking Module (UDM) and the two newly developed Russian Research Modules were to be attached to Zvezda's nadir port – the UDM was to be based on the Functional Cargo Block FGB-2. The FGB-2 was originally built as a backup for the original launch of the Zarya (FGB) module – FGB-2's construction had been halted at 70% completeness in the late 1990s.[6]

However, the plans changed in the early 2000s. In August 2004, it was decided to build the Nauka ISS module based on the FGB-2.[7] During that time, there was an alternate rejected as a proposal for Nauka from RKK Energia, based on the canceled Commercial Enterprise Module (Entertainment and Studio Module), which was to be jointly funded by RKK Energia and SPACEHAB.[8]

Development and launch date

Nauka training mockup at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in April 2012.

At the end of 2005, the European Space Agency (ESA) agreed with the Russians that the European Robotic Arm would be launched together with Nauka, mated on its surface for a later deployment in space. A spare elbow joint for the European Robotic Arm was already launched together with Rassvet.[citation needed]

In 2004, the Roscosmos stated that Nauka should be ready for launch in 2007 on a Russian Proton rocket. However, the Nauka project was delayed further, first to 2008 and later to 2009. In November 2006, an ESA bulletin mentioned that the Roscosmos was negotiating with the ISS partners to push back the prospective launch date to the end of 2008. In October 2011, it was reported that Nauka was expected to be launched at the end of 2013.[9] In May 2012, it was reported that the launch date had been pushed back to 2014.[10] The next planned launch date was April 2014, according to Vitaly Lopota, president of RKK Energia.[11]

On 25 October 2013, Parabolic Arc reported that Nauka was flawed and had failed acceptance testing at RKK Energia.[12] Found problems in the propulsion system included a leaking fueling valve that needed to be replaced and contamination, which would require a lengthy cleaning.[13] The module was to be returned to Khrunichev for repairs which would take another 12 to 18 months.[12] On 27 November 2013, it was reported that Roscosmos had informed NASA that the launch had been postponed until at least 2015.[14]

In April 2014, it emerged that the target date for launch was postponed to February 2017: a new propulsion system needed to be manufactured, as the installed system had exceeded its warranty.[13] The leaking fuel valve had also damaged the module's exterior plumbing, necessitating the replacement of most of the plumbing.[15]

By November 2016, the tentative launch date had slipped to mid-2018.[16] aboard a Proton-M rocket. In December 2017, it then slipped further with a projected launch date of March 2019, before a 20 December 2018 launch date was confirmed.[17]

In August 2018, Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin set a new launch date of November 2019.[18] However, the propellant tanks were found to be contaminated with metallic dust in 2017, requiring repair and replacement work; a tentative new launch date in June 2020 was not met because the repair of the fuel tanks was initially unsuccessful; NPO Lavochkin was slated to produce new single-use fuel tanks based on the Fregat upper stage.[15] Production of this new fuel system, installation into Nauka (at NPO Energia), and additional testing would delay the launch to after 2020.[19]

On 17 October 2019, TASS released information about the successful repair of the original tanks, so Fregat-based tanks were not needed anymore. The launch date of Nauka in November 2019 was confirmed.[20] On 14 November 2019, the Russians informed the European Space Agency (ESA) that the launch of Nauka would be postponed again for at least three months. A launch date in 2021 means further work on certifying aging equipment.

On 23 January 2020, TASS reported that the roll out was postponed until the end of March 2020 to replace valves on Nauka's fuel tanks.[21] On 4 February 2020, Dmitry Rogozin said Nauka required more testing because the warranty had expired and testing could only be done in Moscow instead of Kazakhstan delaying launch to January 2021. Testing is ongoing and should be completed by May 2020.[22] On 21 February 2020, the construction of the Proton rocket was completed and the stages were shipped to Baikonur.[23] On 2 April 2020, TASS reported that repairs to the valves were complete but the module's systems had yet to be tested before shipment to Baikonur, which would move the roll out to the end of May 2020. Due to concerns over the novel coronavirus, work has been suspended until 15 April 2020, but systems testing will be performed by a skeleton crew until work resumes.[24]

Despite the coronavirus, work never stopped despite the delay and a limited workforce. Nauka was shipped to Energia on time for vacuum testing which will take a month. Roll out was scheduled for the last week of June or the first week of July. Nauka faced another coronavirus delay in July and work resumed on 31 July 2020. Nauka was shipped out on 10 August 2020 and is expected to arrive at Baikonur in the coming weeks.[25][26] On 19 August 2020, the train carrying Nauka arrived at Baikonur and the module was unloaded from the rail car and taken to Site 254. Work involved installing the new tanks, installing the European Robotic Arm, installing the solar arrays, and placing Nauka into its payload fairing before the module is rolled over to the booster assembly facility and attached to the Proton rocket which will take it to space.[6][27]

On the morning of 21 August 2020, Nauka was delivered to the assembly and testing facility at Site 254 and removed from its shipping container. A crane then set it down on cradles and rolled the module into hard cell 5 where the contamination covers over the active hybrid docking mechanism were removed. On 11 September 2020, workers next installed a decontamination airlock and the hatch was opened so workers can take the shipping panels out to load the cargo and the launch restraints. Outside the micrometeoroid and orbital debris armor was installed over the new tanks and the batteries were installed. Over at the airport Antonov delivered the adapter ring which will be bolted to the aft end before the module is attached to the Proton. Fit checks with Prichal will be done before the module is placed in the fairing and delivered to Site 200 and attached to the Proton rocket.[28][29]

On 10 October 2020, Expedition 65 cosmonauts Oleg Novitsky and Pyotr Dubrov conducted the first part of the Crew Equipment Interface Test in preparation for their mission and Nauka's move to final assembly. The cosmonauts inspected systems and made their recommendations before they toured the outside of the module to locate the fittings they will attach their equipment to when the module arrives at the station next year.[30] Oleg Novitsky and Pyotr Dubrov returned to Baikonur on 2 November 2020 for the second part of the Crew Equipment Interface Test. Hatches were opened, antennas were deployed, and Nauka was powered on for the first time. On 3 November 2020, Nauka was put through a series of tests to make sure the systems that power it work when the module is in free flight before it docks to the ISS next year. To date, 306 tests have been completed of the 754 needed before Nauka can be transported to Site 200 for launch processing.[31][32]

On 15 January 2021, all docking hatches were installed, and the last of the MMOD armor and the radiators had been placed on the hull. In a nearby hangar, the solar arrays and the European Arm underwent final testing before they were to be installed at the end of June. On 16 January 2021, Roscosmos reported Nauka has reached 80% complete. During the month of January teams at Baikonur installed all the systems and tested the tanks and thrusters to flight level.[33][34]

On 24 February 2021, Oleg Novitsky and Pyotr Dubrov tested the software for the automated docking system. In the event Nauka fails to dock they can disable the auto pilot with the TORU and fly the module in manually.[35]

The launch date had been scheduled for May 2021, but because of issues with testing and new restrictions due to the coronavirus, which delayed processing and ISS crew schedules, Dmitry Rogozin scrubbed the launch until at least 15 July 2021, resulting in a new 2021/2022 launch schedule with better ballistic conditions.[4][5][36]

On 15 March 2021, Nauka was placed in the vacuum chamber to begin atmospheric testing. Rogozin said he will make his decision on launch when vacuum testing is completed the first week of April.[37] On 26 March 2021, the Expedition 65 prime and backup crew arrived in Baikonur for the final Crew Equipment Interface Test. While here they inspected Nauka and Soyuz MS-18 which are now in the final phase of processing before they are rolled out to the pad in April.[38][39]

On 21 April 2021 in an interview with reporters on Twitter Rogozin announced Nauka will be launched in July. Before the launch Oleg Novitsky and Pyotr Dubrov will do a spacewalk to detach Pirs and will do an inspection of the hull of the station.[40] Because of the risk of micrometeoroids Rogozin also said in the interview that Nauka will be detached from the station in 2025 and docked to NEM to form the new Russian space station called Russian Orbital Service Station (ROSS). As for the ISS it will be deorbited once the Axiom Orbital Segment is launched. Nauka has completed vacuum testing and the final components are being installed. Launch is scheduled for July if they remain on schedule. [41]

On 2 May 2021 the launch schedule was posted online which will involve the launch of Progress MS 17 on 30 June to deliver outfitting hardware to the station and plugs to fix the leak in the Zvezda Service Module. before it docks Novitsky and Dubrov performed a spacewalk to remove equipment and cables from Pirs in preparation for undocking.[42] Pirs will undock on 17 July after the launch of Nauka on the 15. Once Nauka is docked Progress MS 17 will do a fly around to test the Kirs system and redock to Nauka where it will stay until 24 November when it undocks taking a docking adapter away with it. Prichal will launch the day after and will dock to the station and the final spacewalk will be done before the service module that brought Prichal up is detached.[43]

On 9 May 2021, Nauka was returned to the vacuum chamber to perform leak checks and test the pneumatic systems. For this test the module will be filled with helium gas and pressurized to flight level. Once the test is complete the solar arrays will be installed and the European Arm will be attached to the hull before the radiators and the final layer of MMOD armor is installed. Encapsulation will take place at the end of June before the module is delivered to Site 200 where it will be attached to the rocket.[44]

On 11 May 2021 Nauka completed all vacuum test including the leak check and was returned to the hard stand in the slipway. Now the solar arrays and MMOD armor will be installed over the hull before the European Arm is attached. The solar arrays are on standby and will be installed once the tanks are filled with propellent and the thermal control system is topped off with ammonia. The covers that protected the hatches will also be removed and the docking adapter for Progress MS 17 will be installed. Work continues on the module with encapsulation scheduled for the end of June. [45]

On 13 May 2021 Site 200 was modified with a special crane and systems to supply chilled air and fuel to the Proton rocket and Nauka when they arrive at the pad. These same modifications were done at Site 81 when Mir, Zarya, and Zvezda were launched from this facility. [46]

On the morning of 20 May 2021 the European Arm was attached to the hull. Test will be done on the arm before the launch locks are secured and the protective cover is placed over the arm for launch.[47]

On 25 May 2021 Roscosmos conducted their flight readiness review signifying that all test are complete and the module is ready to be transported to Site 200 for final processing and mating to the rocket. Launch is scheduled for 15 July 2021. [48][49]

On 4 June 2021 the solar arrays were added to the module and extended. Test will be conducted on the arrays before they are folded up before attachment of the stage adapter. The fairing is in the process of being assembled and will be attached to the spacecraft before both are loaded onto a flatcar for delivery to Site 200 at the end of June for final launch processing. That same day the cosmonauts of the next seven increments including Aleksandr Skvortsov and Sergey Prokopyev who have flown to the station in previous increments conducted a crew equipment interface test prior to encapsulation of Nauka and shipment to Site 200 for launch processing.[50]

On 7 June 2021 work at Site 200 was completed in preparation for the assembly of the rocket and the rollout of Nauka to Pad 39 at the facility. To prevent the spread of contamination from the coronavirus and toxic fumes from the loading of the hypergolic fuel into the Briz-M tanks a temporary cleanroom will be constructed at the pad and a special cover will be made to cover the fairing until the rocket is vertical on the pad.[51]


Computer generated image of the Russian Orbital Segment (ROS) after Nauka docking.

Nauka is to be used initially for experiments, docking, and cargo. It will also serve as a crew work and rest area. Nauka will be equipped with full guidance and navigation control including engines and an attitude control system that can be used as a backup by the ISS. It will be docked onto the Zvezda module's nadir (Earth facing) docking port. Outfitting equipment launched in 2010 with the Rassvet (Mini-Research Module 1) on NASA's STS-132 will also be used for Nauka, the spare elbow joint for the European Robotic Arm (launched with Nauka), internal hardware and an experimental airlock will be positioned on one of the side-facing ports at the bottom of the module. The new module will contain crew quarters with life support equipment including atmospheric processing, a galley, and a toilet.[9][52]

After launch, the Nauka module will dock with the nadir, or Earth-facing, port of the space station's Russian Zvezda service module. That location has been occupied by the Russian Pirs docking compartment since 2001. The Pirs module will be discarded before Nauka's arrival using a departing Russian Progress cargo freighter, which will guide itself back into Earth's atmosphere to burn up on re-entry with the Pirs compartment.[4][1]

Primary research module

Nauka will be Russia's primary ISS research module. For some time, NASA's official plans included a second research module around the same size as Nauka, listed to be "under review", but it was eventually cancelled, leaving Nauka to be the only Russian research module besides Rassvet and Poisk (Mini-Research Module 2).[1][6]

Temporary Docking Compartment

When Nauka module is installed (docked to Zvezda's nadir port) nauka will serve as a temporary docking compartment for ISS functioning similar to former Pirs docking compartment. It will have a passive docking port called Nauka nadir. Since it is temporary docking port, it will just be used for relocated dockings of Soyuz MS-18 and Progress MS-17. When Progress MS-17 undocks around 24 November 2021, it will remove the module's nadir port docking adapter and oth will be deorbited together into the . After this, the final visiting spacecraft, Progress M-UM will be dock to it, having the Prichal Module with it that will be docked permanently to it, thereby ending the docking operations of this ISS module. Lastly, a spacewalk will be done and the service module that brought Prichal up will be detached.


See also


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