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Above: An interpretive rendering of the Node Module based on available information as of 2009.
Node Module concept
By mid-2000s, RKK Energia added a new element into the possible future configuration of the International Space Station, ISS, called "Uzlovoi Module" or Node Module in English. Despite its small size, a four-ton, ball-shaped module could play an extremely important role in the Russian space program.
The first task of the module would be to enable the addition of a pair of science and power modules, NEMs, to the Russian segment, which were intended to replace a canceled Science and Power Platform, NEP. However more importantly, the node module was conceived to serve as the only permanent element of the future Russian successor to the ISS. Equipped with six docking ports, the Node Module would serve as a single permanent core of the future station with all other modules coming and going as their life span and mission required. Thus, the orbital base could be maintained in space practically indefinitely. It was a key feature, which would differ the future station from Russia's Mir, Mir-2 and the ISS.
For its ride to the station, the Node Module would be integrated with a special version of the Progress cargo ship and launched by a standard Soyuz rocket. The Progress would use its own propulsion and flight control system to deliver and dock the Node Module to the nadir (Earth-facing) docking port of the MLM/FGB-2 module on the Russian segment of the International Space Station.
The Node module will provide additional docking ports and 14 cubic meters of pressurized volume for the Russian segment, along with one-time delivery of 1,000 kilograms of cargo.
The zenith (upward facing) docking port of the Node Module will likely be equipped with the so-called active hybrid docking port, which enables docking with a MLM module. Remaining five ports would be passive hybrids, enabling docking of Soyuz and Progress vehicles, as well as heavier modules and future spacecraft with modified docking systems.
Preliminary design completed
On Jan. 15, 2011, RKK Energia announced that its Scientific and Technical Council, NTS, conducted a meeting, which reviewed and approved the preliminary design of the Node Module and associated hardware, including:
The NTS meeting chaired by the 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, launches of both Node Module and preceding it MLM multi-purpose module were scheduled for 2012.
In May 2012, Roskosmos placed a formal order for the production of a Soyuz-2-1b rocket to carry the UM module into orbit. By August of that year, a published 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, technical problems during the preparation of the MLM module for launch had a "domino effect" on all subsequent modules of the Russian segment, including the UM module. According to NASA, by the end of 2013, the launch of the UM module was expected no earlier than in May 2016.
Known specifications of the Node Module (328):
Writing, photography and illustrations by Anatoly Zak unless credited otherwise
Last update: December 3, 2013
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The Node Module. Credit: RKK Energia
A 2009 scale model depicting future configuration of the International Space Station, includes 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