Flight controllers at NASA and Roscosmos averted a catastrophe on Thursday after a big Russian module docked with the International Space Station and commenced to “inadvertently” fireplace its thrusters.
The Russian “Nauka” module linked to the space station at 8:30 am CT (13:30 UTC), native time in Houston, the place NASA’s Mission Control relies. After that, Russian cosmonauts aboard the station started making ready to open the hatches resulting in Nauka, however at 11:34 am Houston time, Nauka unexpectedly began to fireplace its motion thrusters.
Within minutes, the space station started to lose perspective management. This was an issue for a number of causes. First of all, the station requires a sure perspective to take care of sign with geostationary satellites and speak to Mission Control on the bottom. Also, photo voltaic arrays are positioned to gather energy primarily based upon this predetermined perspective.
Another concern is G forces on the station’s construction. The varied parts of the in depth space station have been assembled in microgravity and designed to function at zero-G. So even small stresses on the automobile can induce small cracks or different issues with the station’s construction.
For all of those causes, space station flight controllers in Houston and Moscow acted rapidly after the station began to float. Attitude management was absolutely misplaced at 11:42 am, and engines on the space station’s service module have been fired. This was adopted by a handover to the Russian Progress automobile connected to the station, which started to fireplace its thrusters. This tug-of-war offset the Nauka module thruster exercise, which ultimately stopped after gasoline provides have been exhausted. By 12:29 pm on Thursday, perspective management was restored. It made for fairly an hour on the bottom and in space.
“Yeehaw!” tweeted Zebulon Scoville, lead flight director in Houston throughout Thursday’s space station actions, after his shift ended. “That. Was. A. Day.”
By late Thursday afternoon, when NASA officers held a teleconference to temporary reporters, the scenario gave the impression to be nicely in hand. Officials, nevertheless, declined to say how critical the scenario acquired in Mission Control earlier than the station returned to its correct perspective.
“Until you exhaust all of your contingency plans, you are not likely beginning to fear,” mentioned NASA’s space station program supervisor Joel Montalbano. “And we did not try this right this moment.”
Already, Montalbano mentioned, a crew of NASA engineers was learning the impact of Thursday’s lack of management on the station’s construction. Meanwhile, Russian engineers have been assessing the well being of the Nauka module. Both teams ought to full preliminary assessments by the top of the day Friday.
For NASA, this meant delaying the launch of a Starliner spacecraft deliberate for Friday. This long-awaited mission comes 19 months after an preliminary take a look at flight in December 2019 went awry resulting from software program issues. Because Starliner was not capable of dock with the space station throughout this primary take a look at flight, Boeing agreed to fly a second take a look at mission of Starliner earlier than a crewed flight.
NASA moved the Starliner launch to no-earlier-than Tuesday at 1:20 pm EDT from Florida (17:20 UTC) on its Atlas V rocket. If the spacecraft launches subsequent Tuesday and all goes nicely, Starliner will dock with the space station subsequent Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Russians will proceed to work towards integrating Nauka with the space station. This is a large module that features crew quarters, an airlock for scientific experiments, and rather more. With a mass of about 24 metric tons, it’s roughly 20 p.c bigger than the most important Russian section of the station, the Zvezda service module.
Nauka has had an extended and, up to now, inglorious historical past. Its launch eight days in the past got here after greater than a decade of delays resulting from lack of funds and technical issues. Shortly after reaching orbit, Russia had difficulties with Nauka’s primary propulsion system, and docking with the space station was delayed. After utilizing backup thrusters to lift its altitude and attain the station, Nauka docked. It’s not clear what function the propulsion system points skilled shortly after the launch could have performed in Thursday’s difficulties.