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Russia is about to detach a huge piece of the International Space Station

Published Jun 3rd, 2021 10:18PM EDT
space station module
Image: NASA

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Russia may be planning on leaving the International Space Station in the not-so-distant future, but until the country actually stops sending its cosmonauts skyward it needs to ensure its half of the ISS is working as intended. To that end, a pair of Russian cosmonauts exited the orbiting laboratory yesterday to embark on a lengthy spacewalk that ended with the official decommissioning of the Russian Pirs module. The module will soon be released from the space station. At that point, it will drift toward the Earth and be completely destroyed.

Russia maintains half of the ISS and the United States maintains the other half. The Pirs module was used as a docking port for spacecraft, but Russia no longer needs it, and would rather have the new Nauka module in its place. Nauka will be equipped with a variety of equipment that will allow for even more science to be conducted on board, but first, the Pirs module has to be completely disposed of.

As NASASpaceflight reports, the spacewalk had a number of objectives, but the primary goal was to ready the Pirs module to eventually be let loose. In addition to that, the cosmonauts addressed a failed fuel flow regulator on a separate module and discarded it, tightened a few bolts, and inspected other areas of the spacecraft.

To decommission the Pirs module, the scientists had to disconnect cables and prepare other hardware for the moment when the module will be cut loose. When new modules are installed on the ISS they have to be integrated into the spacecraft’s systems, and that means a lot of connections have to be made both inside and out. Now that the Pirs module is effectively cut off from the space station, it will be free to float away once the day comes.

Pirs is the first ISS module to be completely decommissioned, and it will obviously also be the first to be discarded in space. The module, which also allowed for egress during spacewalks in addition to serving as a docking location, should be completely destroyed when it is released and falls into Earth’s atmosphere. The intense friction should totally obliterate the module and prevent any sizeable debris from making it to the surface far below.

At present, the module is scheduled to be discarded sometime after July 17th, though we don’t know the exact date. The new science module, Nauka, will be sent flying around the same time, so the switchover between the two modules will likely happen over a very short timeframe.

The International Space Station isn’t getting any younger, and it’s no secret that some parts of the spacecraft aren’t in great shape. Russia has had to deal with a number of air leaks in recent years, and other pesky annoyances have popped up with regularity. That said, the ISS is still a fully functional laboratory and it also happens to be orbiting Earth, making it the only place where certain types of research can be conducted. The longer it remains up and running, the better.