Russian node module docks with International Space Station

Russia’s Prichal node module moments before docking at the International Space Station. Credit: Roscosmos

Russia’s Prichal docking module linked up with the International Space Station Friday, adding the final planned piece of the Russian segment of the outpost to provide a new connection for future crew and cargo ships.

The spherical, ball-shaped docking node launched Wednesday at 8:06:35 a.m. EST (1306:35 GMT) on top of a Russian Soyuz-2.1b rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The propulsion module from a modified Progress supply ship guided the Prichal module on a two-day pursuit of the space station, culminating in an automated docking at 10:19 a.m. EST (1519 GMT) Friday.

The Progress tug lined up the Prichal module with its new home attached to the Nauka multi-purpose lab module on the bottom side of the space station’s Russian segment. The long-delayed Nauka module docked at the station in July, becoming the largest pressurized module to arrive at the outpost in more than a decade.

“Contact confirmed, and capture confirmed,” said Rob Navias, a NASA spokesperson providing commentary of the docking on NASA TV. “A holiday season delivery of a new module to complete the Russian segment of the International Space Station.”

Docking occurred as the space station soared 262 miles (421 kilometers) over Ukraine.

Hooks closed a few minutes later to create a firm mechanical connection between the Prichal module and the space station. After equalizing pressure in the docking adapter, Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov planned to open hatches and enter the new module.

The cosmonauts will ready the module for the disconnection and departure of its Progress propulsion tug Dec. 21. The Progress propulsion module will burn up when it re-enters the atmosphere.

Shkaplerov and Dubrov plan to head outside the space station Jan. 19 on a spacewalk to connect cables between the Nauka and Prichal modules, preparing the new docking node to receive a Soyuz crew capsule in March.

The combined Prichal and Progress spacecraft weighed around 18,000 pounds (8.2 metric tons) at launch. Prichal itself has a mass of about 10,250 pounds (4,650 kilograms), according to Roscosmos, the Russian space agency.

Prichal has a diameter of about 11 feet (3.3 meters), and features six docking ports. One was used to link up with the Nauka module at the space station, while the other docking ports will receive visiting crew and cargo ships.

Russia’s new Prichal node module took the place of the Progress MS-17 spacecraft previously docked at the Nauka module. The Progress spacecraft undocked from Nauka on Thursday, clearing a path for Prichal’s docking. The Progress took with it a docking adapter that launched with Nauka to temporarily accommodate Soyuz and Progress vehicles.

The Prichal module will become a standard docking location for visiting Soyuz crew ferry ships.

Russian ground teams packed around 1,543 pounds (700 kilograms) of cargo inside the Prichal module, including water treatment equipment, medical and sanitary supplies, and rations for the space station crew.

A Soyuz-2.1b rocket blasts off with the Prichal module. Credit: Roscosmos

“The International Space Station has received its second module this year!” Shkaplerov tweeted Friday. “Now, the Prichal Node Module has become part of the ISS Russian segment. Its creation and launch is a big step towards the concept of a renewable national space station with an unlimited lifespan.”

Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos, said in a statement that the Prichal module will allow engineers to develop technologies that could be used on a future Russian-led space station. The design of the Prichal node module, with its five radial docking ports, could allow the replacement of individual modules over time.

“Today, we can state the fact that the formation of the Russian segment of the International Space Station has been completed,” Rogozin said.

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