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Above: An isolated view of the MLM module in deployed position. Copyright © 2012 Anatoly Zak
Previous chapter: Zarya FGB module
A sibling of the first station piece
The first of two sibling spacecraft -- Zarya FGB control module -- was built by Moscow-based Khrunichev Enterprise under contract with the Boeing company. Although the agreement funded only a single vehicle, Khrunichev used spare parts and its own funds to build a backup module, in case the original, known by its Russian abbreviation as FGB, failed in a launch mishap or upon reaching orbit.
By the time Zarya/FGB-1 successfully docked to the Zvezda service module in July 2000, the FGB-2 module was about 65 percent ready, according to Khrunichev. At that point, Russian space officials considered several potential new roles for the craft in the ISS program, including its use as a heavy supply ship for the Russian segment of the station.
In mid-2000, Boeing announced that it had partnered with Khrunichev to "commercialize" the FGB-2. The move put Khrunichev/Boeing team on a collision course with RKK Energia and Spacehab, who at the end of 1999 claimed the same docking port on the ISS (nadir or Earth-facing docking port on the Zarya module) for their Enterprise module.
A new role for FGB-2
Published: 2001 August 10
During 2001, in an effort to save money on the virtually stalled development of the Russian segment of the International Space Station, ISS, Khrunichev proposed to use the FGB-2 spacecraft as a base for Universal Docking Module, USM. The USM would serve as a hub for up to three Russian research modules; however, work on the USM module all but stopped due to lack of funds.
The concept of using the FGB-2 as a Universal Docking Module had been considered in previous years, however the amount of work required for modifying the module for the task would have not justify the effort. For example, the transfer compartment on FGB-2 had to be repositioned and equipped with three additional docking ports to receive future science modules. However by 2001, Khrunichev officials argued that in light of the financial situation at the time, Russia had no chance of building any of its science modules during the station lifetime.
According to Khrunichev, it would be enough to add a single docking port to the FGB-2 in order for it to serve as the Universal Docking Module. In August 2001, Khrunichev and RKK Energia -- the main Russian contractor on the ISS -- reportedly agreed on the use of the FGB-2 as the Universal Docking Module.
According to that plan, the FGB-2 module would dock to the Earth-facing (nadir) port on the Zvezda service module, i.e. the same port where the UDM module was expected to dock. Such a configuration would leave the "nadir" port on the Zarya module for the RKK Energia's proposed Enterprise module.
In addition to the new docking port, the FGB-2's solar panels and a number of other systems would have to be modified, in order for the spacecraft to serve as a replacement for the UDM.
Khrunichev representatives said that the FGB-2 could be prepared for launch within two years after a decision on its mission had been made. From around 2001 and until 2004, the launch of the FGB-2 module to the ISS was scheduled for 2007.
Multipurpose Laboratory Module, MLM
On November 3, 2006, RKK Energia and the Russian space agency, Roskosmos, signed a contract calling for the development of the Multipurpose Laboratory Module, MLM. At the time, work on the module was expected to start in 2007, and its launch was targeted for 2009.
In the new configuration, the MLM module would accommodate both service systems for the Russian segment of the ISS and scientific payloads. The European-built ERA manipulator and the DMS-R multifunction computer would also be installed onboard. A special automated airlock for moving payloads from the interior of the station to the vacuum of space would be installed on the lower section of MLM.
To be delivered into space by the Proton rocket, the module would have an initial mass of 20,700 kilograms and provide 70 cubic meters of pressurized volume. Around eight cubic meters would be available for cargo storage and the same volume would be left for the installation of the scientific payloads. The module would sport a total of 12 workstations for various instruments and experiments. Special incubators and vibration-protected platforms for sensitive material-science research would be available.
Prior to the MLM launch, the Docking Compartment-1, which had occupied the nadir (Earth-facing) docking port of the Zvezda service module, was to be discarded along with a departing Progress cargo ship. It would then be directed to the Earth atmosphere to burn up. The MLM would then use its own engines to rendezvous with the station and dock to the freed nadir port on Zvezda.
Around a year or two after the MLM arrival to the station, a 4,000-kilogram ball-shaped Node module would be docked to the outer end of the MLM.
By the beginning of 2008, the launch date of the MLM slipped from 2009 to 2011. Until May 2009, the MLM was promised to take off in December 2011. During a May 29 press-conference at the mission control in Korolev, Aleksei Krasnov, the head of manned space flight at Roskosmos said that launch was expected in the first quarter of 2012. However in the October 2009 NASA schedule the mission was still marked for launch in December 2011.
In August 2011, the Director General of GKNPTs Khrunichev, Vladimir Nesterov, said that a prototype of the MLM module designed for electrical tests would be delivered to RKK Energia before the end of the month, despite technical issues associated with changes in the module's design documentation. (503) Around the same time, industry sources said that an integrated prototype of the MLM module had already been delivered to RKK Energia and was in process of being hooked up to the integrated prototype of the Russian segment.
By the fall of 2011, the launch of the module was postponed from December 2012 to June 2013, as the earliest. By 2012, the launch slipped further to 2014.
By the end of August 2012, GKNPTs Khrunichev completed the installation of the ERA robotic arm and onboard cable lines on the MLM module. The thermal control, hydraulics and pneumatic systems had been tested and solar panels had been installed, the company announced on September 3.
On September 21, GKNPTs Khrunichev completed assembly of the payload section for the MLM mission, including the module itself, its protective fairing and an adapter ring designed to serve as an interface between the spacecraft and the Proton launch vehicle. The operation would test all mechanical interfaces, check electrical systems and pneumatic pushers, the company announced. This work would be followed by the weighing of the module and vacuum tests.
A fully assembled flight version of the module would then be shipped to RKK Energia for further electrical tests, GKNPTs Khrunichev said. As of the beginning of September, the transfer of the spacecraft to RKK Energia was promised to take place in October, or two months behind a previous schedule, however it had to be delayed even further.
A critical transfer from the Moscow's district of Fili to Korolev started on the night from December 6 to December 7, 2012. From December 7 to December 14, a joint team of specialists from GKNPTs Khrunichev and RKK Energia unloaded the module from the railway car and installed it at the processing site in the main hall of the RKK Energia's Checkout and Testing Building, KIS, the company announced. According to RKK Energia, the upcoming work included autonomous and integrated tests of the module, including joint trials with ground equivalents of other Russian ISS modules as well as Progress and Soyuz transport ships.
According to a schedule approve by RKK Energia leadership on October 24, 2012, the launch of MLM Nauka module was scheduled for Dec. 11, 2013, enabling a docking of the spacecraft to the Zvezda Service Module on the Russian segment of the station nine days later. However according to industry sources, MLM was not likely to lift off before 2014.
During 2013, the launch of the MLM module was re-scheduled to April and then to June 2014. In the meantime, tests of the MLM at RKK Energia revealed a leaking fueling valve within the propulsion system of the spacecraft. The damage was serious enough to require a complex procedure of cutting away the valve and welding in a new one. Before committing to the repairs, engineers had to practice it on a full-scale prototype of the MLM module known in Russian as Kompleksny Stend, KS.
Further inspections of MLM at RKK Energia apparently found contamination inside the propulsion system, which would require a lengthy cleaning. According to some reports, it would take up to 10 months to resolve all the issues with the spacecraft.
As a result, it was decided to return the MLM back to GKNPTs Khrunichev for repairs. On Oct. 22, 2013, the Interfax news agency reported that all the repairs at GKNPTs Khrunichev would take a year and a half to complete. According to a poster on the online forum of the Novosti Kosmonavtiki magazine, latest plans called for the launch of the MLM module in September 2015. The head of RKK Energia Vitaly Lopota told the RIA Novosti news agency that no decision for the return of the module back to GKNPTs Khrunichev had been made yet. At the same time, Lopota admitted that he had not certified the spacecraft for launch.
To make matters worse, the European Space Agency, ESA, responsible for the ERA mechanical arm onboard the MLM module reportedly had enough with all the delays and resulting cost overruns. ESA reportedly refused funding for the program beginning from 2014 onwards. As a result, the Russian government would likely have to pick up the tab for all further cost increases in the project.
By the end of 2013, NASA documents indicated that the MLM module would not fly before November 2015.
Next chapter: Zvezda Service Module
MLM Nauka module development team:
The MLM Nauka module at a glance (as of 2012):
*20.7 tons according to other sources
Page author and photography: Anatoly Zak; Last update: December 3, 2013
Page Editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: October 21, 2008
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The FGB-2 module, minus its solar panels, sits in the assembly shop at Khrunichev enterprise in Moscow in August 2001. Protective red boxes cover attitude control engines. Copyright © 2001 Anatoly Zak
The FGB-2's docking adapter in its original configuration. Additional docking ports would have to be installed on the section to adapt the module for the new role of the Universal Docking Module, UDM. By 2008, developers decided to add a special Node module to that section to enable further expansion of the Russian segment. Copyright © 2001 Anatoly Zak
The interior of the FGB-2 module viewed from the docking adapter section toward the front docking port. Copyright © 2001 Anatoly Zak
A photo released on Sept. 3, 2012 shows MLM (FGB-2) module finally getting its solar panels. Credit: GKNPTs Khrunichev
Photos released on Sept. 24, 2012, show fit checks of the FGB-2 module and its launch vehicle fairing. Credit: GKNPTs Khrunichev
MLM Nauka module arrives to RKK Energia's KIS test facility in Korolev on Dec. 14, 2012. Credit: RKK Energia