Thomas Pesquet hardly felt anything.
At the end of July, the international space station, where the French lives with six other astronauts, circled in space.
And not just a little, as NASA first suggested, explaining that the space station had rotated 45 degrees.
In fact, the space base has rotated almost 540 degrees (more than a turn and a half on itself)!
In question ?
A Russian compartment which triggered its thrusters while it was attached to the station.
In an interview with the New York Times, Zebulon Scoville, the flight director of NASA, details this impressive incident. It all happened on July 29. That day arrives near the Nauka station, named after this Russian module which is to "enlarge" the international space station with new berths and a laboratory. Everything is going well: the module hooks onto the space station and attaches to it. It was at this point that Zebulon Scoville took over from one of his colleagues. “He unplugged, I plugged in and I turned around, and the warning sign came on,” he says.
On Earth, we first think of a problem with the system: the information is wrong and does not reflect reality.
It is not and the video feedback confirms it: Nauka has just turned on its thrusters for an unknown reason.
Attached to the International Space Station, the module spins it at up to 0.56 degrees per second, too little for the crew inside to feel anything.
Normally, the stability of the space station is managed by four large gyroscopes that rotate around it, but their operation is immediately disrupted when an outside force intervenes.
On Earth, NASA and Russian authorities liaise as the space station continues to spin. Why did the thrusters go off? No one knows yet. The Russian space agency, Roscomos, will later evoke a "software failure" which led to the ignition of the thrusters. How to stop them? We have to wait… The Russians then say that the module can only receive orders from a ground station in Russia and therefore the space station must pass over it in 70 minutes, according to the New York Times. At NASA, a "spaceship emergency" is triggered and the crew is called to the rescue.
Update: @space_station was 45 ° out of attitude when Nauka's thrusters were still firing & loss of control was discussed with the crew.
Further analysis showed total attitude change before regaining normal attitude control was ~ 540 °.
Station is in good shape & operating normally.
- NASA (@NASA) August 3, 2021
The situation is all the more problematic as when rotating, the International Space Station loses contact with the Earth several times: the antennas, supposed to be oriented towards the globe, find themselves oriented in the opposite direction. Contact is lost twice, for four and seven minutes. Then instructs the crew to rebalance the space station: they turn on the thrusters of a first module which must counter Nauka, before activating a second module. The space station then regains relative stability until the Nauka thrusters go out… without knowing why.
It took, in all, an hour for everything to return to normal. Fortunately, the International Space Station was not damaged. The incident, however, forced Boeing to postpone its unmanned test mission from its Starliner space capsule to the International Space Station. It should have initially been launched on Friday, but had been postponed to Tuesday. However, the mission had to be postponed again on Tuesday, due to a problem in the propulsion system.