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Russia’s new module for ISS, Nauka, in trouble after launch

The new big Russian module for ISS, dubbed Nauka and successfully launched yesterday, appears to have a serious engine issue, according to these twitter reports by Anthony Zak of

From his two tweets:

UPDATE: #Nauka’s main engines (pictured in operation) are currently out of commission. Specialists are troubleshooting the issue and developing a backup rendezvous plan. The module has ~30 stable orbits at current altitude.

…one more thing: at this point, there is no information that Nauka’s tank membranes have leaks in orbit. Those rumors in the Russian press might be a garbled echo of my reporting here ;)->

Nauka’s launch came about fourteen years behind scheduled, delayed by many engineering and quality control problems. Its construction began more than a quarter century ago. If Nauka fails to dock with ISS the Russians will face a disaster to their space program that almost cannot be measured. It will certainly make the Chinese much more reluctant to depend on Russia in their supposed partnership to build a base on the Moon or to work together on China’s space station. It should also make the U.S. far more reluctant to depend on Russia in its Artemis program.

Worse, it is questionable the Russians can get anything built in any reasonable time to replace Nauka. How can anyone expect them to build anything in a reasonable time for either of the U.S. or Chinese interplanetary projects?

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  • Mark

    I wonder if these engineering and QC issues stemmed from the last few years of downsizings at Roskosmos. This quote is from an article on the Radio Free Europe website. ‘ Roskosmos said it made around 12 billion rubles ($160 million) in profit in 2020, according to Maksim Ovchinnikov, its top economics and finance officer. He also said the company had reduced its workforce by some 10,000 employees since 2019.’ The article was titled ‘ A Cosmonaut Is Demoted And Russia’s Star-Crossed Space Agency Lurches. Again’.

  • Jay

    So Pirs module is scheduled to be removed tomorrow for Nauka. Will they delay the removal or go ahead regardless of the outcome?

  • Jay

    Ask a question and you get an answer. Anatoly Zak wrote that the Pirs undocking has been moved to Saturday.

  • David Eastman

    One of his previous articles mentioned that Pirs will be undocked when Nauka reaches one of the earlier approach hold checkpoints and is verified good to go. If they undock and discard Pirs, and then Nauka can’t take it’s place, then ISS has a serious problem.

  • Steve Richter

    I think there is a big opportunity for the US to be more friendly and cooperative with Russia. Allow Russian contractors to compete for contracts with NASA. Draw them into the free enterprise system, Point being the Russian people want their country to be successful and part of the free world. They might jump at the chance to change the way their country is run.

  • Edward

    This is the same module that had a contaminated propulsion system.

    If NASA were to contract with a Russian space company, as Steve Richter suggested, then it shouldn’t be for anything that is mission critical or for an important mission.

  • Steve Richter

    “… If NASA were to contract with a Russian space company, as Steve Richter suggested, then it shouldn’t be for anything that is mission critical or for an important mission. …”

    I am suggesting to help private aerospace businesses in Russia to get business somewhere other than the Russian government. Admittedly, I do not know what I am talking about. Are private businesses allowed in Russia? Could SpaceX hire a Russian based contractor?

  • Jeff Wright

    Maybe the Progress that was to de-orbit Pirs can dock with Nauka and help it along.

  • Steve Richter:

    1. I’ve noted this numerous times, but the entire aerospace industry in Russia has been consolidated into a single corporation under the control of Roscosmos and the government. The few private companies that have popped up in the last decade have been quickly squelched and absorbed.

    2. Allowing Russian companies to compete with American companies, with their much lower labor costs, will guarantee that few new American companies will succeed, or will be handicapped greatly. Shouldn’t we have a bit of self interest for once?

    3. And as others have noted, the Russians’ work is not trustworthy these days. They need to demonstrate better reliability. Why give them charity when they don’t deserve it?

    Finally, the best thing we can do for Russia now is to do nothing for them. Time for some tough love. They truly want to compete in space. If people stop giving them handouts they might just become forced to get their own house in order.

  • Questioner

    Disaster is averted!

    “Russia Averts Possible Disaster as New Space Station Module Finally Reaches Proper Orbit”

  • Steve: Point being the Russian people want their country to be successful and part of the free world. They might jump at the chance to change the way their country is run.

    Some do, but from what I see the practice of selling oneself short and simply “getting by” is as prevalent there as it is in the free world – if not more so.

    Which is understandable, given the higher levels of authoritarianism and corruption they are subjected to, relative to what we are subjected to in the West. And there is the still-open wound to national pride inflicted by their loss of the Cold War and the demise of the USSR. All this suppresses the motivation to act responsibly to get ahead, and respect for the rights of one’s neighbors …. essential elements for successful living as part of the free world.

    Putin and his oligarch cronies exploit all of the above to stay on top.

  • still-open wound to national pride inflicted by their loss of the Cold War and the demise of the USSR
    It doesn’t make much sense to Americans, but the “loss” of Ukraine in the 11th century (or 12th or 13th – it depends how you define “possession” and “loss”) is still an open wound to national pride.

    Individual Russians are fine people; I work with and know many of them (definitely “tech industry” selection bias at work there). However, Russia is a disaster.

    Random thing: I’ve often said that William the Bastard invaded England just to get a new appellation. I think Svyatopolk the Accursed is worse!

  • Mark

    In response to a Jester and markedup2:
    While no Putin fan, in my opinion Putin is strongly advocating for a relationship between Russia and Ukraine (of course on his terms). He wrote this week a very comprehensive essay on the history of Russia and the Ukraine, which he followed up with a long interview. Putin’s target audience are the younger generations in the Ukraine, the West and Russia proper who know very little, if anything, about history. The man is putting in the work and his efforts should be accounted for if one is to seriously think through the chess match that is going on. I think our foreign policy elites are overmatched by the realities on the ground, and that is why the US scrubbed its opposition to Nordstream2

  • Lee Stevenson

    Just an aside, but I listened to a BBC report when they went around Crimea, during the troubles ( ousting of a democratically elected leader ), and asked the men and women on the street what they thought. Without exception they wished for Russian intervention from the “Nazis now in power”.

    I personally have no dog in that race, I am neutral regarding Putin, all the Russians I know like him, I wouldn’t like to be his enemy. I do however object to the western media’s constant use of the terms “invasion of Ukraine”, and “occupation of Crimea”.

    The peninsula is historically russian, is russian speaking, and from what I drew from the BBC piece, the population was all in on Russia retaking it under control.

    The BBC piece is strangely no longer available. I’m not advocating either way, but I am advocating for free and honest journalism, which seems to be very lacking these days.

    Oh, and a bit of free market competition in Russia wouldn’t go amiss.

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