After years of delays, Russia launched a new multipurpose laboratory module named Nauka to the International Space Station on Wednesday from Kazakhstan.
A Russian Proton-M rocket carrying the module lifted off about10:58 a.m. EDT from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome. The mission reached a successful orbit, according to NASA.
Besides a laboratory, whose name means “science” in English, the 20-ton, 43-foot-long module has a living area for one additional Russian crew member, a second toilet for the cosmonauts aboard the space station, additional oxygen generation and urine recycling capacity. Eventually, it will be used as an airlock for spacewalks.
“This is the first time a Proton rocket … launched a module to the International Space Station since the launch of the Zvezda module 21 years ago,” a NASA mission control announcer in Houston said during a live broadcast of the launch.
The Nauka Multipurpose Laboratory Module, or MLM, will spend the next eight days boosting its orbit to reach the space station, which is about 260 miles high.
Russia began to build Nauka in 1995. After delays in construction, the Russian space agency Roscosmos aimed for a 2007 launch date.
As the schedule dragged on, Russian space experts said in 2013 that metal chips had been found in the module’s fuel system, requiring a complete overhaul of that system.
In 2020, the Russian news agency TASS announced an additional delay of several months due to adjustments required on the module’s fuel tanks.
The launch of Nauka comes just months after reports emerged in April that Russian government officials were talking about leaving the space station by 2025.
Members of NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, however, said July 15 that the launch indicates continued Russian commitment to the space station.
Before Nauka can dock with the space station, another Russian segment, the Pirs Docking Compartment, will be removed by a Russian Progress spacecraft Friday.
The spacecraft then will guide the compartment into the atmosphere in which both are expected to burn up during the heat of re-entry, according to NASA.
The mission control announcer said Wednesday that the Pirs compartment had been a “venerable workhorse” for the Russians, providing access to space for spacewalks and other services.
Nauka’s docking is scheduled for 9:25 a.m. EDT July 29.
After the Pirs is gone, the space station’s robotic crane, Canadarm-2, will take video of the exposed port to ensure it is ready for Nauka, NASA said.
“That video will be analyzed by Russian flight controllers, and if they see anything untoward, such as debris … consideration could be given to conduct a contingency spacewalk on Tuesday” to clear the debris, the announcer said.