Thruster Misfire? Russia’s New ISS Module Just Turned the Station Out of Position

But no one was harmed.
Brad Bergan
A NASA-furnished image of the ISS.dima_zel / iStock

In space, you should always expect the unexpected.

Hours after successfully docking with the International Space Station, Russia's new Nauka module, a research lab, airlock, and storage unit, reportedly began firing its thrusters uncontrolled, turning the ISS 45° out of attitude, according to a live broadcast of developing events on NASA TV.

While the crew of the illustrious low-Earth orbit space station is in no danger, control centers at NASA, the ESA, and Russian Flight Directors are taking this very seriously.

Russia's new ISS module has fired thrusters, turning the ISS

"Zvezda's hatch was opened and crew was in process of getting things up and running when at 12:45 PM EDT, Nauka began firing uncontrolled," read a tweet from NASASpaceFlight journalist Chris Gebhardt. "ISS 45 degrees out of attitude. NO DANGER TO CREW!" This came on the heels of the Nauka module's successful docking with the ISS, after a journey from Earth fraught with errors. After it was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrone in Kazakhstan on July 21, the module experienced a failure to complete a main thruster burn to lift it to a higher orbit, but this was corrected with backup thrusters. The Russian module also experienced issues with its antenna. There were problems with the module's docking target, which may or may not have had anything to do with the snag experienced earlier on Thursday.

Progress thrusters were fired to correct the ISS' orientation

However, after the Nauka module caused the ISS to lose its correct orientation, service module thrusters and later progress thrusters were fired to correct the attitude of the station. As of writing, it appears to be in a favorable condition, with no casualties, and Russian teams continued to analyze the Nauka thruster issue. "Progress thrusters were used to regain ISS nominal attitude," read another tweet from the NASASpaceFlight journalist. "Russia teams will [continue] working on Nauka thruster issue." NASA's live broadcast said there will be a follow-up telecon later to discuss the incident, to be announced on and social media.

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When the accidental thruster fire began, Russia's Zvezda service module tried to correct the attitude loss, but this maneuver switched to the main Progress thrusters. The ISS will need to move back in range of Russian ground controllers through its orbital trajectory to correct the issue, so the Nauka module's thrusters do not fire uncommanded again, according to another tweet. In addition to NASA and ESA control centers, Japan's space agency (JAXA) also monitored the precarious situation in real time. Mission Control Houston initially thought they'd monitored debris or ice flinging off of the ISS into space, but the crew saw nothing. "Nothing wrong with the SARJ," said ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, in the live NASA TV broadcast. This could have been a very serious mishap for the aging ISS, but, thankfully, automated and human procedures collaborated to resolve the issue at breakneck speeds, and no one was harmed.

This was a developing story and was regularly updated as new information became available.