International Space Station Construction Began 20 Years Ago

Left: Launch of the Zarya Functional Cargo Block from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Right: Launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour from the Kennedy Space Center on the STS-88 mission to deliver the Unity Node 1 module. (Credit: NASA, Roscosmos)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — The largest and most complex international construction project in space began on the steppes of Kazakhstan 20 years ago today. Atop its Proton rocket, on Nov. 20, 1998, the Zarya Functional Cargo Block (FGB) thundered off its launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome into cold wintry skies. Zarya was built by the Khrunichev in Moscow and served as a temporary control module for the nascent ISS.

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Russians to Launch Long-Delayed Module to Space Station Next Year

Multifunctional Laboratory Module (Credit: Khrunichev)

Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin has announced a new launch date — November 2019 — for the launch of its long-delayed Nauka multi-functional module to the International Space Station. Whether this new date will hold is anyone’s guess; the module’s launch will be a dozen years behind schedule by that point.

Nauka will serve as a scientific laboratory as well as a rest area for Russian astronauts aboard the space station. The module will include an airlock for experiments, crew quarters, a galley and a toilet. Nauka also includes a docking port for Soyuz and Progress spacecraft and a European-supplied robotic arm.

Construction of the Nauka module began in 1995. It was originally a backup for the Zarya module, which was the first element of space station launched in November 1998.

With Nauka no longer needed to back up Zarya, plans were made to convert it to a multi-purpose module with a launch scheduled for 2007. However, technical problems repeatedly delayed the launch.

In 2013, RSC Energia engineers found a leaking valve and contamination in Nauka’s fuel system.  The module was shipped back to Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center for repairs and cleaning.

The following year, Russian officials announced that Nauka would be further delayed because it needed a new propulsion system. The propulsion unit installed on the module had exceeded its warranty.