Russia launches lab module to International Space Station
A Proton-M booster rocket carrying the Nauka module lifted off as scheduled at 7.58pm local time (2.58pm GMT) from the Russian space launch facility in Baikonur, Kazakhstan.
The navigational antennas and solar arrays deployed properly after a flawless launch that set the module on an eight-day journey to the orbiting outpost.
After a series of manoeuvres, the 22-ton module is set to dock at the International Space Station in automatic mode on July 29.
The launch of Nauka, also called the Multipurpose Laboratory Module, had been repeatedly delayed because of technical problems. It was initially scheduled to go up in 2007.
In 2013, experts found contamination in its fuel system, resulting in a long and costly replacement. Other Nauka systems also underwent modernisation or repairs.
A launch previously set for July 15 was postponed until Wednesday due to the need to fix unspecified flaws.
Before Nauka docks at the station, one of the older Russian modules, the Pirs spacewalking compartment, will need to be removed and scrapped to free up room for the new module.
Russian space controllers plan to perform the manoeuvre on Friday after they check and confirm that Nauka’s systems operate properly and the module is ready for docking.
Once Nauka docks at the station, it will require a long series of manoeuvres, including up to 11 spacewalks beginning in early September, to prepare it for operation.