Russian module mishap destabilises International Space Station

The International Space Station (ISS) was briefly destabilised after a Russian science lab malfunctioned.

The 13m-long lab inadvertently fired its thrusters, resulting in the ISS losing control of its orientation for 47 minutes, NASA said.

Russian cosmonauts checked for leaks between the 22-tonne lab – named Nauka – and the service module when automatic sensors on the ground identified the problem.

US and Russian officials said the seven crew members aboard, which included two Russian cosmonauts, three NASA astronauts, a Japanese astronaut and a European space agency astronaut from France, were never in any immediate danger.

They added that ground teams had regained control and the “motion of the space station is stable”.

The glitch took place three hours after the Nauka module docked with the ISS on Thursday.

Nasa officials said Nauka’s jets started firing uncommanded at 4.45pm “moving the station 45 degrees out of attitude”.

The Russian Zvezda segment and a Progress freighter responded to push the station back into its correct pointing configuration.

The incident was over by 45 minutes later.

Joel Montalbano, manager of NASA’s space station programme, said that, at the height of the incident, the ISS was pitching out of alignment at the rate of about half a degree per second.

Communication with the crew was lost for several minutes twice during the malfunction, but “there was no immediate danger at any time to the crew,” Montalbano said.

The crew “really didn’t feel any movement”, he added.

What caused the defect of the thrusters on the Nauka module, delivered by the Russian space agency Roscosmos, has yet to be determined, NASA officials said.

The incident has prompted NASA to postpone an August 3 test flight for a Boeing capsule from Florida.

The lab launched from Kazakhstan last week, taking eight days to reach the ISS, where it will provide more space for scientific experiments.

It was originally due for launch in 2007 but was postponed due to various technical difficulties, including contamination in its fuel system in 2013.

It will now need various manoeuvres, including up to 11 spacewalks before it is ready to be used.


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