Russian officials said a software glitch and a potential interruption of human interest were the reason the International Space Station (ISS) was briefly spinning out of control this week.
Jet propulsion engines on Russia’s Nauka research unit inadvertently restarted Thursday a few hours following it docked to the space station, causing the entire orbital outpost to derail from its average flight position 400 kilometers overhead Earth with seven crew members on board.
According to NASA’s version of the accident, the mission’s flight director immediately declared an emergency in space as engineers on Earth battled to restore stability to the sprawling research satellite.
NASA told reporters Thursday that control of the situation from the station was lost for 45 minutes, as ground flight teams activated thrusters on another module of the site and on a divide cargo ship docked in the complicated to restore proper alignment.
During that time, the International Space Station, which measures the length of an American football field, was slowly swaying at the end at a rate of half a degree per second, roughly four revolutions per hour, according to NASA.
The contact with the crew was also lost twice for several minutes during the emergency.
On Friday, Vladimir Solovyov, general designer at Energia, a Russian space agency company, sought to reassure international partners that the incident was contained and said the astronauts would have Nauka – the Russian word for “science” – and would soon be up and running.
“Due to a short-term malfunction in the software, a direct command was erroneously executed to operate the unit’s engines to tow it, resulting in some modification in the direction of the complicated as a whole,” he said in a statement.
“The crew is now active balancing the pressure in the Nauka unit. In the afternoon, the crew will begin the hatches, get into the unit, activate the necessary means to purify the atmosphere and start the average average work.”
There was a human factor
Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, later said that human inattention might be involved.
“Everything was going well but there was a human factor. There was some euphoria [following thriving docking]He was quoted by the Komsomolskaya Pravda website as saying.
Both NASA and Roscosmos said the seven crew members on board — two Russian cosmonauts, three American cosmonauts, and two others from Japan and France — were never in immediate danger.
Both agencies also said the situation was resolved in a relatively short time with no visible hurt to the space station.
But Joel Montalbano, NASA’s space station program manager, said he could remember only two or three previous occasions in the orbiting laboratory’s 20-plus-year history when the thrusters of a docked vehicle or unit had misfired that way.
The accident also prompted NASA to postpone the planned launch of Boeing’s Starliner space capsule on a highly anticipated and uncrewed test flight to the space station.
The blast, which was scheduled for Friday from Cape Canaveral, Florida, has been temporarily postponed on August 3.
Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky, who is on the International Space Station, on Friday told his Twitter followers not to worry.
“Dear friends, I’m reading your many comments. Don’t worry! Our work continues on the International Space Station to integrate the newly arrived Nauka module! We’ll begin the gates tonight. We’ll preserve you posted!”
Roscosmos said that Russian specialists had completed secluded checks on the Noka engines to ensure continued safety and that the plant was operating on its average course.
She said the docking unit was otherwise thriving.
Rogozin, President of Roscosmos, hailed Nauka’s arrival the previous day as a “very firm and significant triumph for us” and warmly accepted Twitter’s congratulations from astronaut Elon Musk.
Rogozin also spoke of plans to launch another Russian unit of the station in November.
Roscosmos has suffered a series of mishaps and corruption scandals, including during the construction of the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the far east of the country where contractors were accused of embezzling state funds.