Progress 47 Cargo Ship Departs Station; HTV-3 Arrives

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An unmanned Russian cargo capsule departed the international space station for good July 30 after successfully testing an upgraded on-orbit rendezvous system two days earlier, NASA said.

The Progress 47 capsule, now filled with trash, will undergo several weeks of on-orbit engineering testing before being steered into the atmosphere where it will burn up upon re-entry.

The capsule’s final departure followed a July 28 test in which it successfully redocked with the space station using the Kurs-NA automated rendezvous system. Progress 47, which had been at the station since April, initially separated from the orbital outpost’s Russian-built Pirs docking port July 22 in preparation for a Kurs-NA test that was supposed to take place July 23 but was called off due to technical problems.

The Kurs-NA docking system is an updated version of the Kurs system that has been used on Russian spacecraft for years. Engineers made several upgrades to the newer version, including better electronics that are expected to use less power and improve safety.

As part of the test, the Progress 47 spacecraft approached the station to within about 46 kilometers. At this range, the Kurs-NA system was activated, and the cargo ship carefully attached itself to the space station.

The docking system was then removed from the capsule and placed aboard the station’s Russian-built Zarya module, where it will be stowed until it can be returned to Earth for analysis by Russian engineers, NASA said.

The space station’s Expedition 32 crew, led by Russian cosmonaut and station commander Gennady Padalka, monitored the docking test. There are currently six astronauts living at the orbiting complex, including Padalka, fellow Russian cosmonauts Sergei Revin and Yuri Malenchenko, NASA astronauts Sunita Williams and Joe Acaba, and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide.

The Kurs-NA docking test occurred a day after a different unmanned cargo freighter arrived at the space station. The Japanese H-2 Transfer Vehicle-3, or HTV-3, was safely attached to the orbiting outpost July 27. The spacecraft is packed with fresh supplies, food and science experiments for the station.