from the What-does-this-button-do? dept.
Flight controllers at NASA and Roscosmos averted a disaster on Thursday after a large Russian module docked with the International Space Station and began to "inadvertently" fire its thrusters.
The Russian "Nauka" module linked to the space station at 8:30 am CT (13:30 UTC), local time in Houston, where NASA's Mission Control is based. After that, Russian cosmonauts aboard the station began preparing to open the hatches leading to Nauka, but at 11:34 am Houston time, Nauka unexpectedly started to fire its movement thrusters.
Within minutes, the space station began to lose attitude control. This was a problem for several reasons. First of all, the station requires a certain attitude to maintain signal with geostationary satellites and talk to Mission Control on the ground. Also, solar arrays are positioned to collect power based upon this predetermined attitude.
Another concern is G forces on the station's structure. The various components of the extensive space station were assembled in microgravity and designed to operate at zero-G. So even small stresses on the vehicle can induce small cracks or other problems with the station's structure.
For all of these reasons, space station flight controllers in Houston and Moscow acted quickly after the station started to drift. Attitude control was fully lost at 11:42 am, and engines on the space station's service module were fired. This was followed by a handover to the Russian Progress vehicle attached to the station, which began to fire its thrusters. This tug-of-war offset the Nauka module thruster activity, which eventually stopped after fuel supplies were exhausted. By 12:29 pm on Thursday, attitude control was restored. It made for quite an hour on the ground and in space.
[...] By late Thursday afternoon, when NASA officials held a teleconference to brief reporters, the situation appeared to be well in hand.
Russia's MLM Nauka Makes Triumphant Docking to ISS.
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Russia’s Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM) Nauka, meaning “science,” has defied the odds to successfully dock to the ISS after a long and arduous journey dating back over 20 years and a problematic propulsion system after launch which had threatened the success of the mission.
The docking was not without issue, with Russian cosmonauts noting that Nauka wasn’t on the correct course less than an hour before docking; however, a retro burn quickly corrected the issue. After also troubleshooting an issue with the TORU manual docking system, which was used for the final seconds of the module’s approach, Nauka successfully docked to the Zvezda service module’s nadir port at 09:29 EDT / 13:29 UTC, marking the first major expansion to the Russian segment for over 20 years.
Immediately after a successful orbit insertion of 190 x 350.1 km, issues with the module’s communications and propulsion systems were noted. Initial troubleshooting was complicated by limited communications during brief periods when the module came within range of Russian ground stations.