Russian Spacewalkers Prep ISS’s New Prichal Module For Dockings

Cosmonaut Pyotr Dubrov works to configure and activate the Prichal module.
Credit: NASA TV

HOUSTON—Two Russian cosmonauts on Jan. 19 completed the first in a series of up to nine spacewalks planned over 2022 to fully integrate Russia’s new multiport Prichal docking and Nauka Multipurpose Laboratory modules to the International Space Station (ISS).

Prichal was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for an autonomous docking to Russia’s Nauka Multipurpose Laboratory Module on Nov. 26, 2021. It added four radial docking ports plus an Earth-facing parking spot. Nauka was launched from Baikonur and docked autonomously on July 29, 2021. It provided the Russian segment with additional research volume, an airlock, crew quarters and toilet, as well as a 36-ft.-long external  European Space Agency (ESA) robot arm.

All of the communications and data links necessary to make Prichal ready for its first docking were successfully completed by cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov. The first Soyuz capsule with three cosmonauts on board is planned for docking at Prichal following a planned launch on March 18.

Over a 7-hr., 11-min. excursion that concluded at 2:28 p.m. EST, Shkaplerov, the ISS’s current commander, and Dubrov departed the Poisk airlock to deploy a Strela access boom to provide a pathway to the 16-ft.-long, 11-ft.-wide spherical Prichal. Once at the worksite, they relocated docking targets, installed communications antennas, cables and lighting and relocated a camera.

The activities were focused on integrating the Russian KURS automated docking system between Prichal and Nauka to facilitate the future arrivals of Soyuz crew and Progress cargo capsules with updated distance and rate of closure data.

“You guys are doing an awesome job,” NASA astronaut Kayla Barron, who was positioned inside the ISS, told the two cosmonauts as they overcame a momentary loss in their communications with flight controllers in Russia’s Mission Control outside Moscow.

A few minutes later, their efforts to extend the KURS data link to Prichal were confirmed.

The spacewalkers inspected and adjusted thermal insulation, and removed and installed handrails to prepare for future spacewalk activities. 

No longer needing equipment and cleanup materials from their activities, four times they gathered and tossed them overboard for disposal in the opposite direction of the station’s trajectory while avoiding the potential for recontact.

Future Russian spacewalks this year focused on Nauka are to advance installation of ESA’s robot arm, relocate a radiator, activate the airlock, relocate a portable work station and install external payload attachments.

Mark Carreau

Mark is based in Houston, where he has written on aerospace for more than 25 years. While at the Houston Chronicle, he was recognized by the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement Foundation in 2006 for his professional contributions to the public understanding of America's space program through news reporting.