December 5, 2021

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Surprise Soyuz thruster firing tilted and turned the ISS

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The astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station had to initiate emergency protocols after the spacecraft tilted and turned by 57 degrees on Friday. All is well now, but the Roscosmos and NASA ground teams had to spring to action and alert their personnel in space after noticing the change in orientation. According to The New York Times, the incident happened while cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky was testing the engines aboard the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft that’s currently docked with the station. 

NASA spokesperson Leah Cheshier told the publication that “the thruster firing unexpectedly continued” when the engine testing was scheduled to end. By 5:13 AM Eastern time, the ISS lost control of its orbital positioning. Russian controllers in Moscow immediately told Novitsky that the station turned 57 degrees, while NASA’s mission control in Houston told its astronauts to begin emergency procedures. Flight controllers were able to regain control of the station around 30 minutes later. The Soyuz spacecraft that caused the incident is expected to fly a Russian fillm crew — that same one that flew to the ISS to shoot the first feature film there earlier this month — back to Earth.

“During the Soyuz MS-18 engines testing, the station’s orientation was impacted. As a result, the International Space Station orientation was temporarily changed. The station’s orientation was swiftly recovered due to the actions of the ISS Russian Segment Chief Operating Control Group specialists. The station and the crew are in no danger,” Roscosmos said in its announcement.

As The Times notes, this is the second such emergency on the station. Back in July, the thrusters on Russia’s Nauka module fired “inadvertently and unexpectedly” causing the ISS to tilt by about 45 degrees. At the time, NASA spokesperson Rob Navias said the ISS lost “attitude control,” which is also what happened in this case, and that the event was quite rare.

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