Today you can watch something happen that we have not seen in over a decade. The International Space Station (ISS) is getting a new module, the first one since 2011. The module is called Nauka, the Russian word for science, and was launched on July 21 together with the European Robotic Arm, a clever tool that can relocate itself to the different Russian modules of the ISS.
The arrival of the 13-meter (43 feet), 23-ton module to dock with the ISS can be watched live on NASA’s website, TV channels or via the Youtube embed below, starting at 8:30 am ET (12:30 UTC). It will serve as a new science facility, docking port, and spacewalk airlock for future operations.
Before the arrival of Nauka, the ISS had to remove the Pirs docking station and Progress spacecraft.
Pirs worked for over 20 years and has now become the first module of the ISS to be decommissioned. The Progress spacecraft which arrived in February pushed the module into a controlled burn into the atmosphere on Monday night. You can watch the spectacular Roscosmos footage of the module undocking as if in slow-mo here. Most of it was destroyed in reentry with some structural elements falling into the pacific.
If you want to watch a module assembly live but don't have the time today, worry not. Several more modules are still expected to reach the ISS, with the next one not too far away. The Prichal module is currently scheduled to launch on November 24, 2021. Two power modules are also expected to launch, called NEM-1 and NEM-2.
The ISS is currently approved to operate until at least December 2024, when decisions will have to be made about its future. Russia has already announced plans to start building its own space station, with the aim to launch into orbit by 2030, which would mean leaving the ISS by 2025.