Astrophotographer captures Nauka in orbit as ground teams battle to fix its engines

Friday, July 23, 2021: British astrophotographer Martin Lewis captured Russia’s Multipurpose Laboratory Module Nauka in orbit a few hours after its launch to the International Space Station.

Lewis, who posts his images on the website, took the photo shortly after 10 pm BST on Wednesday (July 21) from his back garden in St. Albans, some 20 miles (35 kilometers) north of London, using his home-built 222mm Dobsonian telescope.

Lewis said he was preparing to image the passing International Space Station (ISS) on that day and was alerted to the Nauka pass by another astrophotographer only at about 9pm BST. The skywatchers originally expected Nauka to follow seven minutes after the space station and were caught by surprise by the module’s arrival five minutes earlier.

«I set up [the telescope] with a 2.7x Barlow lens and 642 nm filter with a large-chipped fast ASI174MM digital video camera,» Lewis told «I took a stream of video frames of the ISS with 0.7 millisecond exposure, hand-guiding the telescope and keeping the ISS on cross-wires of the finder. Only on finishing the ISS recording did I realise how close behind the Nauka module was.»

Lewis said he managed to take only «19 good video frames» as he «panicked» slightly due to the lack of preparation time.

While Lewis was scrambling to get his snaps, Nauka ground control teams were fighting a more serious battle as it transpired shortly after the module’s separation from the Proton M rocket that some of its communications and propulsion systems were not working properly. Eventually, engineers managed to correct the issue, commencing Nauka’s ascent towards the orbital outpost with a short delay.

Nauka was conceived in the 1990s and waited for nearly two decades for its launch. Some of its systems are therefore somewhat obsolete. The module, which represents the largest Russian contribution to the space station, is expected to dock with the orbital outpost next week. — Tereza Pultarova


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