After nearly thirty years of development, the Nauka Multipurpose Laboratory Module was launched into orbit on July 21 at 14:58 UTC from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on a Proton-M rocket. It will take about a week for it to make it to the ISS, with docking expected on July 29. However, there’s a bit of space Tetris needed before it can actually dock with the ISS.
At the time of launch, the Pirs module was occupying the Earth-facing port of the Zvezda module on the Russian part of the ISS. It will be undocked from the ISS a couple of days after the launch of Nauka. The Progress MS-16 vehicle currently docked to Pirs will undock with the module attached, and send Pirs to a destructive reentry in the ocean southwest of Australia.
Nauka has a long and tortured development history. It was originally built in 1995 from even older spare parts manufactured for the Mir-2 station. It was supposed to be a backup in case of problems with the Zarya module. Luckily, Zarya successfully launched in 1998, marking the beginning of the assembly of the International Space Station. This left Nauka stuck on the ground.
In 2004, plans were started to launch it into space in 2007. After an incredible number of delays that left people wondering if it would ever launch, including one major delay in 2019 as a result of contamination of the propellant tanks with sawdust, it was finally sent for testing in 2020. Naturally, this was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. Testing was completed late last month following which the module was integrated with its Proton rocket.
On July 17, just a few days before launch, the fully assembled rocket and spacecraft were rolled out to Site 200 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. The launch was nominal, and we’ll have a report for you when it docks to the ISS.
Module Nauka docked with the intermediate compartment (Roscosmos) (Russian)
Nauka ISS module sent off to Baikonur (Roscosmos)
Nauka module launch scheduled for July 21 (Roscosmos)
Pirs module being prepared for undocking (Roscosmos)
MLM-U info page (Gunter’s Space Page)