Thursday, 29 July 2021

Nauka and it's Proton-M rocketbooster


click image to enlarge

On 21 July 2021 at 14:58 UT, Roscosmos launched the new MLM-NAUKA module for the ISS from Baikonur, using a 3-stage Proton-M rocket. After its arrival at the International Space Station (ISS) on July 29, it will replace the PIRS module. Docking is set for 13:24 UT on the 29th.

The NAUKA launch came much belated: originally slated for launch in 2007 (!) it was postponed several times, amongst others after a problem with iron fillings in the engine plumbing was discovered.

With NAUKA, also ERA, the European Robotic Arm, was launched.

In order to make room for NAUKA, the PIRS module was undocked on 2021 July 26 near 10:56 UT, and deorbitted (using Progress MS-16 as a 'tug') into the southern Pacific Ocean on July 26 near 14:42-14:52 UT:

click map to enlarge

Soon after launch, it became apparent that NAUKA was in trouble. There was an initial telemetry problem, and (very worryingly) the main engines didn't work. Russian flightcontrol eventually used the auxilliary engines to raise the module's orbit.

click diagram to enlarge

For European observers, the first few nights after launch offered good sighting opportunities for the free-flying NAUKA (2021-066A), it's Proton-M 3rd stage (2021-066B), and the ISS, the three on the first evening passing within a few minutes of each other in evening twilight.

The images below show NAUKA and the Proton-M 3rd stage in evening twilight of 22 July, imaged with a Canon EOS 80D + EF 2.0/35 mm lens (first Nauka, then the Proton rb):

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge

The Proton rb, and initially NAUKA as well, were  passing through a very low perigee (initially 187 km for the RB, 195 km for NAUKA) over Europe on the first nights. As a result, they passed at a very high, zipping speed through the sky, which was quite spectacular to see. They were bright too.

The video below shows the Proton RB zipping through a partially clouded Leiden sky at 21 July. In the video, it can be seen that three debris pieces accompanied it (these debris pieces were not catalogued by Space-track). Because of the very fast movement (the rocket stage was at only 187 km altitude at the time!) the video is a bit chaotic: I had to continually adjust the camera pointing:



This framestack from a part of the video shows the three debris pieces:

I initially had bad luck filming NAUKA: on two evenings I though I had restarted the video camera recording, but didn't. I succeeded on 23 July however:

The videos were made with a WATEC 902H2 Supreme + Zeiss 1.4/35 mm lens.

My current estimate for the reentry date of the Proton-M 3rd stage is within 2 days of August 6, 2021. I will issue regular updates in a new post once we come closer to this date.

Nauka was found to broadcast telemetry on 631.0 MHz. This is a spectogram of signals I received at Leiden, the Netherlands, in the evening of 28 July during the 18:56 UT pass, using an antenna I had quickly whipped up from scratch for this frequency:


UPDATE 29 July 13:45 UT:

Nauka successfully docked to the International Space Station at 13:29 UT (July 29) near 45.5 N, 110.2 E at an altitude of 425 km above earth surface.

UPDATE 30 July

It looks like Nauka's long stretch of bad luck continues. After docking, at 16:34 UT (Jul 29) an emergency situation developed when Nauka's thrusters suddenly started to fire on their own, without command, causing the ISS to loose attitude control for a while. Thrusters on the Zvezda module were trying to counter the Nauka thruster's firing, and Russian flight controllers were franticly attempting to get the Nauka thrusters to stop firing. In the end, the situation resolved when Nauka ran out of fuel.

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