After docking on Thursday, a Russian space station module went wrong. The module called Nauka started firing its thrusters unexpectedly, which caused the station to move out of place.
Although the long-awaited science module encountered technical problems on its journey to the ISS, once it arrived at the station on Thursday morning it appeared to be in good shape. Three hours later, at 12:34 ET Nauka began suddenly firing its thrusters.
Flight controllers were told by ISS astronauts that they were seeing strange things from their windows. Anatoly Zak, a space journalist, was one of the first to notice these observations.
Zak tweeted that "numerous particles can also be seen outside of the station, indicating either a major propellant leakage or gas vent."
Flight controllers responded to the glitch by firing thrusters at two other parts on the Russian side of ISS, including the service modules, in what they called a tug of war to bring the station back to its normal position.
ISS flight controllers announced at 1:30 PM ET that Nauka's thrusters had stopped firing and that they had regained control over the station's position. In that time, Nauka had turned the station 45 degrees.
NASA announced Thursday afternoon that all other stations systems were operating flawlessly. "All other appendages were not damaged in any way."
The malfunction could be caused by a helium leak
NASA stated that a sudden loss of control over the orientation of the space station is not a common occurrence, and added that there are procedures in place for dealing with such an issue.
Sometimes, flight controllers intentionally change the ISS's direction to avoid space debris or to make it easier for a spacecraft docking at the station.
According to NASA's Johnson Space Center flight controllers, the ISS crew is safe and sound. Oleg Novitskiy, a cosmonaut, and Pyotr dubrov, a five-man astronaut, are currently aboard the station. Thomas Pesquet, Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur are all from the European Space Agency.
A flight controller informed the ISS astronauts that "it's safe to assume the remainder of the day will not happen as planned, of course." To determine if any debris or damage was done to the station's exterior, controllers requested that they inspect the station's right side, also known as the starboard.
The astronauts have so far reported nothing. According to Joel Montalbano, ISS program manager, they didn't feel the station move during the incident.
"You asked the crew, "Hey, did your space station shake?" He said that the crew's response was negative during a briefing Thursday afternoon.
Montalbano said that he isn't too concerned considering that the station's maximum spin rate was only half a degree per sec.
The cause of the engines firing out of control is not known. However, Zak stated that Russia's mission controller discovered a leakage of helium in Nauka's tanks. This may have been what caused the thrusters to fire out of turn.
Russian flight controllers confirmed to NASA around 2:15 PM ET that the errant thrusters had been disabled.
Zak also reported Nauka's exhaustion of all propellant, which means there is no hope of another "tug-of-war".
Nauka (also known as Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM)) was originally set to launch in 2007. However, technical problems and unexpected repairs caused years of delays.
This module adds to the Russian side of ISS. It includes more science facilities, crew quarters and a new spacelock for spacewalks. The module also includes a docking port to allow Russian spacecraft to dock.
However, Nauka's journey to orbit was not smooth. Nauka was unable to fire its main engines or propel itself higher after it launched on July 21. Russian mission controllers had the task of instructing the 43-foot (13-meter) long, 2.5-ton module from Russia to start its backup thrusters in order to get back on track.
The two ISS cosmonauts arrived at Nauka's docking on Thursday. They began checking for leaks and preparing to open the hatch of the module.
However, once the engines started firing up, flight controllers advised ISS crew members to keep the hatch shut and close 1.5-inch (4-cm) thick windows.
Roscosmos and NASA will be investigating the incident over the next few days. Roscosmos will lead the investigation into Nauka while NASA will assess space-station structures for signs of damage.
Montalbano stated, "We'll have an immediate look by the end of tomorrow."
"This will tell us if there are any poke-outs we need to look at.
Business Insider originally published this article.
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