Robotic Russian Cargo Ship Docks with Space Station after Express Flight

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An unmanned Russian cargo spacecraft docked with the international space station Feb. 5 to deliver supplies to the crew members manning the space laboratory after a quick trip through space.

The Russian Progress 54 vehicle docked to the station as both flew 420 kilometers above the Atlantic Ocean at 5:22 p.m. Eastern time. The spacecraft docked about six hours after launching atop Russia’s Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Robotic Progress ships have done these accelerated station runs since 2012. 

The supply ship is loaded down with about 2,500 kilograms of spare parts and other cargo for the Expedition 38 crew currently on the orbiting outpost.

Progress 54 is now attached to the station’s Earth-facing Pirs docking compartment. Another Progress ship — Progress 52 — undocked from Pirs on Feb. 3, making room for the fresh resupply craft to come into port. Progress 54 delivered 800 kilograms of propellant, 1,314 kilograms of spare parts, 420 kilograms of water and 50 kilograms of oxygen, according to NASA. Progress 53 remains attached to the station’s Zvesda service module.

After leaving the station, Progress spacecraft are designed to disintegrate in Earth’s atmosphere. The three-module supply ships are somewhat like Russia’s Soyuz capsules used to bring humans to the station. Instead of a crew module, however, Progress spacecraft have a module filled with fuel.

NASA has penned contracts with two private spaceflight firms that fly resupply missions to the space station. Both Orbital Sciences Corp. and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. use their spacecraft and rockets to deliver cargo to the crew members on the outpost. Japan’s H-2 Transfer Vehicles and Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicles also deliver goods to low Earth orbit.

Six spacefliers make up the space station’s Expedition 38 crew. Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Tyurin, Sergey Ryazanskiy and Oleg Kotov, NASA astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Mike Hopkins and Japanese space agency astronaut Kiochi Wakata all currently live and work aboard the station. Kotov, Ryazanskiy and Hopkins are expected to fly back to Earth on their Soyuz spacecraft in March, while Mastracchio, Wakata and Tyurin are scheduled to leave the station in May.