A Soyuz rocket launched a new Russian division into orbit for the International Space Station on Wednesday. The six-gate node will use the propulsion system from a Progress cargo ship home to the space station for a robotic mooring early Friday at the Nauka lab module.
The Soyuz 2.1b rocket exploded from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 8:06 a.m. EST and landed on the space station’s orbital plane. Eight minutes and 45 seconds later, the node module, known as Prichal, Russian for pier or anchorage, and its Progress “space attraction” were released to fly on their own.
The Progress M-UM propulsion system will perform a series of strokes with careful timed propulsion to the home station. Assuming the departure and meeting would go as planned, the Russians would detach the Progress MS-17 cargo ship from the port of Nauka overlooking the Earth, or nadir, on Thanksgiving morning to clear the Prichal route.
With station commander Anton Shkaplerov standing next to the station’s Russian Zvezda module, ready to take control by remote control if necessary, the new docking division is expected to include the newly populated Nadir port of Nauka at 10:26 a.m. Friday.
Along with bringing 2200 pounds of cargo and equipment to the station, Prichal will provide its own port overlooking the Earth and four radial ports to visit Russian cargo ships and Soyuz crew ferries. A robotic mechanism will allow the Russians to move a visitor vehicle from the Earth-view port to a radial port as needed.
Prichal also features hydraulic equipment that will allow Progress cargo ships to transfer fuel through Nauka to tanks in Zarya and Zvezda modules. The impellers in the Russian segment and the spacecraft that visit Progress periodically increase the height of the station and change its orientation.
The addition of Prichal and the multi-purpose Nauka laboratory module in July marks a significant expansion of the Russian segment of the International Space Station, increasing the number of pressure modules from four to six, while adding five more ports.
Russian cosmonauts plan a series of space trips over the next few months to make power and data connections, connect meeting equipment and install other external equipment.
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