– Why launch a module that was created a quarter of a century ago?
– Indeed, the construction of the body of that machine (as professionals call space products), which was launched today, began more than 25 years ago – in 1995. At first, it was a backup for the Zarya warehouse functional cargo block, the module from which the International Space Station was built. NASA had an idea to get another warehouse in orbit. But then the Americans overgrown with their own modules and the need for additional space for storing tools, things, devices disappeared.
In 2004, Roskosmos decided that the module would be equipped with instruments and it would fly into orbit “no later than 2007” as a multifunctional laboratory. But there was not enough money for the completion. The next launch date is 2012. But MLM from the Khrunichev workshop made it to the RSC Energia control and test center (this “royal firm”, as it is still called from old memory, is responsible for the Russian segment of the ISS) only at the end of 2012. And then miracles began .. …
About dirt in pipelines
– Did you manage to clean out the dirt from the module piping?
– In the middle of 2013, in a roundabout way (in my opinion, there was no official statement), it became known: during a check at RSC Energia, they found dirt in the pipelines of the fuel supply system in MLM systems. It needs to be redone. “Science” is returned to “Khrunichev”. I spoke with many specialists from RSC Energia and from Khrunichev. An unambiguous answer to the question: “Was there a marriage?” never got it.
Energia refers to the conclusion of specialists who disassembled one of the blocks of the fuel system and found contamination there. But what did the foreign particles look like? Shrug their shoulders. How could they get into a closed system? “Well, since 1995, you never know what could have happened …”
The General Director of the Khrunichev Center Alexei Varochko told me:
– We decided not to risk it. With the participation of the leading institutes, the industry made the following decision: it is not effective to remove, clean and reassemble the entire system. In order for Nauka to be able to fly on Khrunichev, they mastered a new production facility to re-manufacture the units and pipelines.
The fuel tanks, which also allegedly contained dust, were disassembled, meticulously checked, tested – no microcracks and dirt were found. And they put it in place.
Now everything on MLM, except for the main engines and tanks, is new.
– Launched “Science” is a completely different machine, not the one that was assembled 20 years ago! – explains Varochko.
The module has been improved so that our cosmonauts can carry out the maximum number of scientific experiments in it. A new cabin for the cosmonaut appeared and was installed. There will be a manipulator outside the module. This is a large flying laboratory.
– Will the astronauts live in the laboratory?
– Yes, this is another residential module. Now on the ISS the volume of space of the Russian segment is almost 10 times less than that of the American one. So extra space doesn't hurt.
Here, in addition to the cabin, there is a work table, a toilet and about thirty seats for scientific equipment – it will be possible to remove one unit when the experiment is finished and put another on. There is even a furnace in which extra-pure crystals will be grown.
Hand of Europeans
– Why do you need a manipulator on the module surface?
– Manipulator ERA was developed by the European Space Agency. This 1800 kg robotic arm can carry up to 8 tons of cargo both over the surface of the station and deliver something from the module to the outside or vice versa. For example, installing new equipment. Or it can “roll” the astronauts to the right place.
The robot is unique. Its length is 11 meters and it knows how to “walk” modulo itself. There are four points on its surface where it can step over and fix itself there. Accuracy of movement of loads – up to 5 mm.
By the way, some of the scientific equipment for MLM has been bombarded with cargo ships since 2016. For the time being, it is fixed on the outer surface of other modules (well, do not clutter up inside the station). So ERA will transfer them to Science, and the astronauts will install them.
Where to go into space
– What is a hermetic adapter in a module?
– “Science” ends with a hermetic adapter. This is a separate ball, inside of which there are two docking nodes and the only porthole for the whole “Science”. The node module will dock here. If you close the hatch cover between the main room of the module and the pressurized adapter, the latter can also be an airlock from where the cosmonauts go into outer space.
– And how will such a colossus dock with the ISS?
– At Baikonur, the MLM was equipped with micrometeorite protection, wrapped in screen-vacuum insulation. The total mass of the module has become almost 21 tons.
At the same time, Nauka is equipped with an automatic docking system. The module has attitude motors. Despite its solid mass, it is capable of very precise movements in space – even, as Varochko says, micro-movements.
When the hatches are open, the astronauts will immediately be able to live and work at the IOM. Ten spacewalks, which experts are talking about, will be needed to pick up the devices that are stored on the station from the surface of the station and bring them into Nauka.
On July 29, Nauka is to “catch up” with the ISS and dock with it.
The first to work with Nauka will be cosmonauts Oleg Novitsky and Peter Dubrov, who are now on the ISS. They, like twelve other people from the cosmonaut corps, underwent special trainings to work with “Science”.
“Child” with a difficult fate
What is more important – it was possible to abandon “Science”. It is clear that the “child” is not the healthiest, you can remove him from your eyes and pretend that he never existed. Actually, it was like that for several years. And it doesn't matter that a lot of money and work of people have been invested in the module.
It took a lot of courage and managerial determination to take responsibility, finish the process, convince the producers, extinguish not the most tender relations between the producer – the State Research and Production Space Center named after V.I. Khrunichev and the company that operates the Russian segment of the ISS – the Energia rocket and space corporation.
The risks in connection with “Science” were considerable. And financial – who is responsible for the car if something goes wrong? And reputational – “Science” is not even a meteorological satellite. The current leadership of Roskosmos has assumed responsibility. And – won.
Now it remains to successfully dock with the station, which is scheduled for July 29. I really want to believe – and it will succeed.