Russia launched a new multifunctional laboratory module dubbed Nauka to the International Space Station on Wednesday from Kazakhstan, after years of delays.

The module was launched by a Russian Proton-M rocket from Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome at 10:58 a.m. EDT. According to NASA, the flight reached a successful orbit.

The 20-ton, 43-foot-long module features a living area for one additional Russian crew member, a second toilet for the cosmonauts aboard the space station, additional oxygen generation, and urine recycling capability, in addition to a laboratory whose name means "science" in English. It will eventually be used as a spacewalking airlock.

 Cosmonauts Prepare For the Arrival of Russian Module in the ISS After A Seven-Hour Spacewalk
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Maxim Suraev (out of frame), both Expedition 22 flight engineers, participate in a session of extravehicular activity (EVA) as maintenance and construction continue on the International Space Station. During the spacewalk, Kotov and Suraev prepared the Mini-Research Module 2 (MRM2), known as Poisk, for future Russian vehicle dockings. Suraev and NASA astronaut Jeffrey Williams, commander, will be the first to use the new docking port when they relocate their Soyuz TMA-16 spacecraft from the aft port of the Zvezda Service Module on Jan. 21. Earth's horizon and the blackness of space provide the backdrop for the scene.

"T+9:40 min after the liftoff, the Nauka Multipurpose Laboratory Module separated nominally from the Proton-M carrier rocket 3rd stage!" Russia's Space Agency Roscosmos confirmed the successful separation in a tweet that was later deleted, Space.com said. "It is now beginning its 8-day autonomous flight to the ISS."

Nauka's solar panels and antennas were successfully deployed three minutes later, according to Roscosmos. According to the Russian news agency TASS, the module will now utilize its own engines to boost its orbit.

About Nauka MLM

The Nauka Multipurpose Laboratory Module, or MLM, will spend the next eight days raising its orbit to reach the 260-mile-high space station.

In 1995, Russia began construction on Nauka. The Russian space agency Roscosmos hoped for a 2007 launch date after development delays.

As the launch date approached, Russian space experts announced in 2013 that metal chips had been discovered in the module's fuel system, necessitating a complete repair.

The Russian news agency TASS reported in 2020 that the module's fuel tanks would need to be adjusted, causing a further delay of several months.

Nauka's launch comes just months after news broke in April that Russian government officials discussed leaving the space station by 2025.

On the other hand, NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel said on July 15 that the launch demonstrates Russia's sustained commitment to the space station.

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Pirs Docking Compartment to be Decommissioned

Space.com said another Russian piece, the Pirs Docking Compartment, will be removed by a Russian Progress spacecraft on Friday before Nauka can dock with the space station.

According to NASA, the spaceship will subsequently steer the compartment into the atmosphere, where both are expected to burn up amid re-entry heat.

The Pirs compartment has been a "venerable workhorse" for the Russians, giving access to space for spacewalks and other services, according to the mission control announcer on Wednesday.

The docking of the Nauka is set for July 29 at 9:25 a.m. EDT.

Following the Pirs' departure, Canadarm-2, the space station's robotic crane, will take a video of the exposed port to ensure it is suitable for Nauka, according to NASA.

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