Prichal Node Module to launch in 2019

The latest Russian plan for the assembly of the International Space Station, ISS, set the delivery of the Prichal Node Module, UM, to the Russian Segment of the outpost for November 2019. According to the October 2017 schedule, the Node Module will fly 7.5 months after the launch of the MLM Nauka multi-purpose laboratory in March 2019. The Node will be attached to the Nauka, providing five extra docking ports to the ISS and giving a potentially unlimited life span to the Russian Segment.

Previous chapter: The MLM Nauka module for the Russian segment of ISS

The Prichal Node Module. Credit: RKK Energia

Node Module at a glance (328):

Liftoff mass (with Progress-MS space tug) 7,290 kilograms
In-orbit mass 4,000 kilograms
Pressurized volume 14 cubic meters
Cargo to be delivered with the module 1,000 kilograms
Number of docking ports 6

The Node Module concept

In the mid-2000s, financial problems forced the Russian space agency to redesign its segment of the International Space Station, ISS. After considering various options, engineers at RKK Energia, the nation's prime contractor in the ISS project, proposed to add a new element called "Uzlovoi Modul," UM for short, or Node Module in English. The spacecraft was later dubbed Prichal - a Russian for "pier."

Despite its small size, this four-ton, ball-shaped structure got to play an important role in the Russian space program. The primary task of the Node Module was to accommodate a pair of Science and Power Modules, NEMs, which were intended to replace the canceled Science and Power Platform, NEP. However, the Node was also conceived to serve as the only permanent element of the future Russian successor to the ISS, if required.

Equipped with six docking ports, the Node Module could potentially work as the single permanent core of the future station with all other modules coming and going as their life span and mission determines. Thus, an orbital base with the Node Module at its center could be maintained in space practically indefinitely. This would be a key feature of the new outpost, making it drastically different from previous multi-modular space stations such as the Russian Mir, Mir-2 and the ISS, whose "in-line" architecture makes it virtually impossible to replace their original modules.

Mission Profile

For its ride to the station, the Prichal Node Module will be integrated with a custom version of the Progress cargo ship and both will be launched on a standard Soyuz-2 rocket from Baikonur. The Progress will use its own propulsion and flight control system to deliver and then permanently attach the Node Module to the nadir (Earth-facing) docking port of the MLM module on the Russian Segment of the International Space Station. During its trip to the station, the Node will also make a one-time delivery of 1,000 kilograms of cargo.

Besides its five free docking ports, the Node Module will add 14 cubic meters of pressurized volume to the station.

The zenith (upward facing) docking port of the Node Module is equipped with a so-called active hybrid docking port, which enables its docking with the MLM module and makes it capable of safely withstanding the high dynamic loads from future add-on spacecraft. The remaining five ports are so-called passive hybrids, enabling the docking of Soyuz and Progress vehicles as well as of heavier modules and future spacecraft with modified docking systems.

Stuck on the ground

As of 2008, the Node Module was expected to fly as early as 2012. However during 2009 and 2010, its launch date began drifting in a domino effect from the complications with the development of the MLM module.

On Jan. 15, 2011, RKK Energia announced that its Scientific and Technical Council, NTS, had reviewed and approved the preliminary design of the Node Module and associated hardware, including:

  • A special version of the Progress cargo ship designated the Progress M-UM spacecraft-module, intended for the delivery of the Node Module to the station;
  • The space payload section, KGCh, for the Progress M-UM;
  • The adaptation of the Soyuz rocket for the launch of the Progress M-UM spacecraft-module.

The NTS meeting chaired by Deputy Designer General V. P. Legostaev was also attended by RKK Energia's President Vitaly Lopota and Deputy Designer General Nikolai Zelenshikov, the company said. According to the press-release, the launches of both the Node Module and of the preceding MLM multi-purpose module were scheduled for 2012.

In May 2012, Roskosmos ordered the production of a Soyuz-2-1b rocket to carry the Node Module into orbit. By August of that year, a NASA schedule of ISS missions showed the launch of the Progress M-UM (No. 303) vehicle with the Node Module on Nov. 15, 2014. However, in 2013, newly discovered contamination inside the MLM module left in limbo all further assembly of the Russian Segment.

According to NASA, by the end of 2013, the launch of the UM module was expected no earlier than May 2016. During 2014, the launch shifted to 2017 and by 2015, the launch slipped to 2018. The station's flight manifest surfaced in April 2015 indicated the launch of the Node Module in the third quarter of 2018.

New launch date set for the Node Module

The future assembly of the Russian Segment acquired some certainty in October 2017, as GKNPTs Khrunichev finally came close to resolving the contamination issues on the MLM module. According to the flight manifest drafted by Russian officials at the time, the launch of the Prichal Node Module along with the Progress-MS-UM spacecraft was set for Nov. 14, 2019. Two days later, the Progress/Node stack will dock to the nadir (Earth-facing) port of the MLM Nauka module. Around a month later, the propulsion section of the Progress-MS-UM spacecraft will separate from the Node, making it available for other ships visiting the ISS.


(To be continued)


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Writing, photography and illustrations by Anatoly Zak, unless credited otherwise; Last update: October 25, 2017

Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: October 25, 2017

All rights reserved





An early concept of the Node Module. Credit: RKK Energia

Russian segment

A 2009 scale model depicting future configuration of the International Space Station, included a node module at the heart of the Russian segment. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2009 Anatoly Zak


The node module could also serve as a core of the future Russian space station. Copyright © 2009 Anatoly Zak


In a proposal for the High-latitude Space Station, VShOS, a specialized Node Module, UM, with six docking ports (right), links up with the MLM module, after its departure from the Russian segment of the International Space Station. During its stay at the ISS, the MLM would be outfitted with a radiator and a small airlock, which were originally launched into orbit with the MIM1 module. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2015 Anatoly Zak


The Node Module was to be equipped with four passive hybrid docking ports. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos