Russia’s latest space station incident points to bigger problems


last Thursday The large new Russian space station module Nauka encountered several technical problems on its way to the orbital laboratory, and finally docked with the International Space Station. However, the problem does not end there. About three hours after connecting to the space station, Nauka started launching thrusters, Unbalance the space station.

This led the NASA Mission Control Center in Houston to initiate the “Loss of Attitude Control” procedure on the space station, which was trained for emergency astronauts and flight controllers. Then, with the cooperation of flight controllers in Moscow, these teams ordered the space station to launch thrusters to the Russian part of the space station and the Progress supply vehicle connected to the laboratory. These joint operations prevented the space station from rolling over too violently before Nauka ran out of its main fuel supply.

After this nearly blunder, NASA hurriedly held a press conference and displayed key figures in front of the media, including the manned space director Kathy Ludes and the head of the International Space Station program Joel Montal Barno. Both sides said that NASA and the Russian space company Roscosmos have mastered the situation and have downplayed the overall risks of the space station and the astronauts on board.

However, they postponed many questions about technical issues to Roscosmos, which provided mixed information. A senior Roscosmos official, former astronaut Vladimir Solovyov (Vladimir Solovyov), Said in the official statement, “Due to a short-term software failure, a direct command was mistakenly executed to turn on the module’s engine for withdrawal, which caused some changes in the direction of the entire complex.”

This makes the problem sound like a software error. But then, Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Roscosmos, admitted that someone on the ground might have made a mistake. “Everything is going well, but there are human factors,” he told a Russian publication. According to Reuters“There is some euphoria (after the successful docking), everyone relaxes.”

Now that the immediate danger has passed, the most urgent concern is that this happened and what this might mean for Russia’s continued participation in the International Space Station program. For NASA, the main goal is to maintain human presence in low Earth orbit, which means letting the station fly for the remainder of the 2020s.

Considering that Nauka’s wrong propeller ignition may involve human error, this is at least the third major problem caused by poor quality work in less than three years. In October 2018, Russian astronaut Aleksey Ovchinin and NASA astronaut Nick Hague aborted the launch after the Soyuz booster failed, and the crew had to return to Earth urgently.Follow-up investigation Find The side-mounted booster is not properly connected to the core stage of the Soyuz rocket.

At about the same time, Russia announced that there was a small hole in another Soyuz spacecraft, which had been connected to the International Space Station. “We were able to narrow the cause down to the technical error of the technician,” Rogozin says The problem.

These technical errors occurred because it was difficult for Roscosmos to pay its engineers and technicians a living wage. The country’s space budget is now under greater pressure because NASA no longer needs to buy Soyuz seats for its astronauts to ride the International Space Station-thanks to SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, and hopes will appear soon Boeing’s Starliner.

Despite this, NASA still publicly supports Russia and its space program. The good news is that, despite its numerous troubles when it reached the space station, Nauka is now there and functioning.This is important because it May be cement Russia participated in the space station for the remainder of this decade.

There is no guarantee. In recent months, Russian officials have begun to say that most of Roscosmos’s existing hardware in orbit is more than two decades old and has been aging beyond repair.Russians Also recommended They may withdraw from the plan and build a brand new station in 2025.Indeed, on Saturday, two days after Nauka’s trouble with the docking, Roscosmos issued a statement saying Continue to study A new low-Earth orbit station project called the Russian Orbit Service Station. This seems likely to be pretentious, because Russia has neither the budget nor the ability to quickly build a new space station.

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