Russia attributes International Space Station incident to software failure

MOSCOW (AP) – A Russian space official blamed a software glitch on a newly docked science lab on Friday for briefly dislodging the International Space Station.

The space station lost control of its orientation for 47 minutes on Thursday, when Russia’s Nauka science lab accidentally fired its thrusters hours after docking, pushing the complex into orbit from its normal configuration. The station’s position is critical for obtaining power from solar panels and for communications with space support teams on Earth. The space station’s communications with ground controllers were also cut twice for a few minutes on Thursday.

Vladimir Soloviev, flight director of the Russian segment of the space station, blamed the incident on a “short-term software failure”. In a statement released by Russian space agency Roscosmos on Friday, Soloviev said that due to the failure, a direct command to turn on the lab’s engines had been mistakenly implemented.

He added that the incident had been “quickly countered by the propulsion system” of another Russian component of the station and “at the moment the station is in its normal orientation” and all of its systems “are functioning normally”.

Later on Friday, Roscosmos director Dmitry Rogozin suggested the “human factor” may have been at play.

“There was such a euphoria (after Nauka successfully docked with the space station), people relaxed to some extent,” Rogozin said in a radio interview. “Maybe one of the operators didn’t take into account that the block’s control system will continue to adjust in space. And he determined an instant three hours after (docking) and turned on the engines.

NASA said Thursday the incident moved the station 45 degrees out of attitude, or about an eighth of a full circle, but the complex never turned, there was no damage or danger. immediate for the crew.

The incident prompted NASA to postpone a repeat test flight for the Boeing crew capsule that had been set for Friday afternoon in Florida. This will be Boeing’s second attempt to reach the 250-mile-high (400-kilometer-high) station before boarding astronauts. Software problems botched the first test.

The long-delayed 22-ton (20 metric-ton) Russian lab called Nauka arrived earlier Thursday, eight days after launching from the Russian launch facility in Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

The launch of Nauka, which will provide more room for science experiments and space for the crew, had been delayed several times due to technical issues. It was originally planned to go up in 2007.

In 2013, experts discovered contamination in its fuel system, which resulted in a long and expensive replacement. Other Nauka systems have also been modernized or repaired.

Stretching 43 feet (13 meters) long, Nauka became the first new compartment for the Russian segment of the outpost since 2010. On Monday, one of the oldest Russian units, the exit compartment in Pirs space, was detached from the station to free up space for the new laboratory.

Nauka will require numerous maneuvers, including up to 11 spacewalks starting in early September, to prepare it for the operation.

According to Soloviev, on Friday the crew were busy equalizing the pressure at Nauka and planning to open the hatch to the lab later in the day.

The space station is currently operated by NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei, Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur; Oleg Novitsky and Piotrevo from the Russian space company Roscosmos; Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet.

In 1998, Russia launched the station’s first compartment, Zarya, which was followed in 2000 by another big chunk, Zvezda, and three smaller modules in subsequent years. The last of them, Rassvet, arrived at the station in 2010.


Seth Borenstein in Kensington, Maryland, and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, contributed to this report.

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