A new Russian module is on its way to the International Space Station.
A Russian-built Soyuz rocket carrying a modified Progress cargo spacecraft and the new Prichal docking module lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday (Nov. 24) at 8:06 a.m. EST (1306 GMT).
"Liftoff! Twenty-three years and four days after the first module launched to the International Space Station, a new docking port takes flight," NASA spokesperson Rob Navias said during the agency's live broadcast. "It was a flawless ride to orbit."
The Progress will deliver Prichal to the orbiting lab on Friday (Nov. 26) at 10:26 a.m. EST (1526 GMT), when Prichal will dock autonomously with Russia's new Nauka multipurpose module, if all goes according to plan. You can watch all of that action here at Space.com courtesy of NASA, or directly via the space agency.
The 4-ton, spherical Prichal (Russian for "pier") has about 494 cubic feet (14 cubic meters) of internal volume, according to RussianSpaceWeb.com. For comparison, SpaceX's Dragon cargo and crew capsules feature 328 cubic feet (9.3 cubic m) of pressurized volume.
Prichal sports six docking ports, one of which will link up with Nauka's Earth-facing port on Friday. The other five will be available for visiting spacecraft, helping to "expand the technical and operational capabilities of the orbital infrastructure of the Russian segment of the ISS," Russia's federal space agency, known as Roscosmos, wrote in an update recently.
Prichal could shape spaceflight beyond the ISS as well. Its applications include "testing architecture for potentially permanent settlements in space," according to RussianSpaceWeb.com, which notes that "it could also serve as a hub of [a] future new orbital base."
Prichal will be the second Russian module to arrive at the station in less than four months. Nauka reached the orbiting lab on July 29, and caused quite a stir when it did so. Nauka's thrusters fired in an unplanned fashion after docking, causing the ISS to rotate about 540 degrees.
No damage was done in that case, but space station managers are doubtless hoping that Prichal's arrival is much less eventful.
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.