MLM Nauka module postponed again
By the end of January 2018, sources at GKNPTs Khrunichev, the manufacturer of the MLM Nauka module, said that continuing repairs of the spacecraft would likely delay its shipment to the Baikonur launch site until the end of July 2018. As of October 2017, the module was expected to be rolled out on March 15, 2018.
Russian engineers are currently assembling complex hydraulic and pneumatic system of the MLM Nauka module.
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According to a nominal pre-launch schedule, processing teams in Baikonur would need to work around the clock for at least seven months to get the module ready for launch in Baikonur. This means that if the processing in Baikonur begins in August 2018, the spacecraft would be able to reach the launch pad around March 2019, at the earliest, barring any major problems during that period. However, May or June launch dates have already been discussed as more realistic at the major review of the project by the Scientific and Technical Council at the end of 2017.
According to the current official schedule, approved last year, the MLM Nauka module was to be launched on Dec. 20, 2018, however with this latest postponement, this deadline will not be achievable. And even that latest timeline still depend on the successful completion of the tank repairs on the module, which are apparently ongoing.
The October 2017 version of the schedule assumed that all the major components of pneumatic and hydraulic system, PGS, affected by the repairs would be assembled by Nov. 30, 2017. The cleansing operations on the tanks had to be finished by Dec. 7, 2017, clearing the way to install, weld and x-ray the repaired system by January 30, 2018. It would be immediately followed by testing of the PGS and thermal control systems, which then could be completed by March 4, 2018. All other onboard equipment and systems, which needed refurbishment and upgrades, would also had to be installed on the module by the same deadline.
If engineers could stay in pace with this schedule, the MLM module would be packed for shipment to Baikonur during the second week of March and ready for the rollout on March 15, 2018. The manufacturing of the Proton-M rocket for the launch of the MLM was to be completed by March 30, 2018.
However by the end of January 2018, it appeared that this schedule had been too optimistic.
It is unclear whether the latest delay, if it becomes official, would trigger financial sanctions from Roskosmos against the module's developers. In October, when the space officials discussed postponing the launch from June to December 2018, Roskosmos warned the industry that it was the final delay before the fines would kick in. In the past few years, Roskosmos has not hesitated to sue its own entities for damages due to missed deadlines agreed in contracts.
In the first half of 2018, continuous delays with the repairs of the MLM module at GKNPTs Khrunichev in Moscow pushed the mission well into the second half of 2019. By May, the launch of the MLM module was officially re-scheduled for Nov. 8, 2019. In anticipation of its docking at the Russian segment of the ISS, the long-duration Russian crew aboard the outpost was expected to increase from two to three people in October 2019.
On August 15, GKNPTs Khrunichev and RKK Energia issued an joint order No. 356/236 forming a commission to evaluate whether it would be possible to extend the operational warranty for 11D442 engines on the MLM Nauka module until June 30, 2020.
In the August 16 interview with the official TASS news agency, Head of Roskosmos Dmitry Rogozin said that the delivery of the MLM module to the launch site in Baikonur was now expected in December 2018 or January 2019. At the time, the tanks of the module were still undergoing repairs, but the project managers targeted the launch of the spacecraft before the end of 2019, industry sources said.
On September 18, 2018, the Chief Designer Council for the Russian Segment of the ISS had reviewed and approved the flight test program for the Proton-MLM complex, which detailed the preparations and launch of the Nauka module, and the flight testing for the MLM-U module, which focused on the integration of the new spacecraft with the Russian Segment in orbit. The Chief Designer Council approved the flight test program of the MLM-U module with its Decision No. 353-18/09-18 and submitted it to Roskosmos for approval by the State Commission on October 3, 2018.
On December 3, a Proton-M launch vehicle and payload fairing for the MLM mission were shipped from Moscow to Baikonur. They arrived at the launch site on December 14.
The processing milestones enabling the rollout of the MLM module on March 30, 2018 (as of October 2017):
2017 Sept. 15: The completion of the manufacturing of components for the pneumatic and hydraulic system.
2017 Nov. 30: The completion of assembly of the pneumatic and hydraulic system.
2017 Dec. 7: The completion of tank cleansing.
2017 December: The beginning of installation of the onboard cable lines and equipment.
2018 Jan. 30: The completion of propellant lines manufacturing, assembly, installation, welding and x-ray checks.
2018 Feb. 15: The completion of all work on refurbishment and upgrades of systems requiring the operational warranty extension.
2018 March 4: The completion of the pneumatic, hydraulic and thermal control tests, the installation of cable network, sensors and onboard equipment.
2018 March 15: Shipment of the MLM module to Baikonur.
2018 March: The completion of the Proton-M rocket manufacturing for the MLM launch.
The FGB-2 module, minus its solar panels, sits in the assembly shop at GKNPTs Khrunichev in Moscow in August 2001. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2001 Anatoly Zak
Specialists were working to clean contamination inside the bellows of the propellant tanks.
Click to enlarge. Credit: GKNPTs Khrunichev
Click to enlarge. Credit: GKNPTs Khrunichev
A Proton rocket for the MLM mission is being packed for a trip to Baikonur around Nov. 20, 2018. Click to enlarge. Credit: GKNPTs Khrunichev