Hours after docking with the International Space Station, the Russian Multipurpose Laboratory Module unexpectedly fired its thrusters which pushed the station out of its standard orientation.
The Multipurpose Laboratory Module, named Nauka, was launched aboard a Proton-M on July 21. Problems arose almost immediately, the most severe of which was an anomaly with the module’s propulsion system that delayed crucial manoeuvres required to raise it into a higher orbit.
Over a week after its launch on July 29, it appeared that Nauka’s rough start was coming to an end after it successfully docked with the orbiting laboratory at 13:29 UTC. However, just hours after docking the gremlins returned.
AT 16:45 UTC, as the station’s crew were preparing to open hatches and enter the new science lab, thrusters aboard Nauka unexpectedly fired which pushed the station by as much as 45 degrees out its standard orientation. The Zvezda module’s thrusters were automatically fired in a tug-of-war effort to counteract the deviation. This effort was handed over to a visiting Progress spacecraft that enabled additional control authority.
Approximately 60 minutes after the malfunction occurred, NASA officials confirmed that attitude control had been restored.
In a post-incident press conference, commercial crew program manager Steve Stitch revealed a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft has been powered on for the Nauka docking procedure should the station’s crew need to evacuate. However, he added that the crew had never been in any danger during the errant thruster firings.
Despite regaining control in less than an hour, the malfunction has already affected upcoming missions to the station.
The second uncrewed Boeing Starliner demonstration mission to the station was slated to lift off tomorrow. However, following the mysterious thruster firings, NASA and Boeing have selected to delay the launch. The earliest possible launch date is now August 3.