Jason DavisOct 01, 2015

Cargo Craft Completes Six-Hour Schlep to ISS

A Russian cargo craft laden with more than three tons of food, fuel and supplies arrived at the International Space Station today. Progress M-29M lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 12:49 p.m. EDT (16:49 UTC, 22:49 local time), beginning what ground controllers affectionately refer to as the "six-hour schlep." The spacecraft made it to the station without a hitch, pulling into port at the Zvezda module's aft segment at 6:52 p.m. EDT.

The Progress spacecraft's arrival caps a busy week of Station cargo shuffling. On Monday, Japanese Exploration Aerospace Agency (JAXA) astronaut Kimiya Yui, backed up by NASA's Kjell Lindgren, unberthed the Japanese ship Kounotori from the station. Kounotori, also known as H-II Transfer Vehicle HTV-5, floated away from the station's robotic arm as the station sailed over the South Pacific Ocean. A series of departure burns put it on course for a destructive reentry Tuesday. 

The cargo ship didn't go quietly, however. NASA and JAXA ran into an unspecified hitch during the first release attempt, but succeeded on the second try an orbit later. Expedition 45 commander Scott Kelly surmised the cargo ship just wasn't quite ready to leave.

With HTV-5 gone, the station's visiting vehicle complement looked like this:

  • Soyuz TMA-17M: Rassvet nadir port
  • Soyuz TMA-18M: Poisk nadir port
  • Progress M-28M: Pirs nadir port
Station vehicle configuration, Sept. 28, 2015

NASA

Station vehicle configuration, Sept. 28, 2015

Meanwhile, on Oct. 9, Progress M-29M and its Soyuz carrier rocket were pulled by train out to the launch pad in Baikonur. The pad, known as "Gagarin's Start," served as the launch site for Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space, 54 years ago.

Progress M-29M train rollout
Progress M-29M train rollout RSC Energia

Just moments before Progress lifted off Thursday, the International Space Station sailed directly over Baikonur. Scott Kelly had his camera trained on the launch site and captured a photo of the rocket's yellow-orange exhaust:

On the ground, a local photographer shot a photo of the rocket rising toward the sky with a waning gibbous moon in the background:

Progress M-29M and moon
Progress M-29M and moon RSC Energia

Six hours later, Progress arrived at the ISS. It linked up flawlessly with the Russian Zvezda module, becoming the rear-most section of the station's habitable volume. 

Progress M-29M ISS approach
Progress M-29M ISS approach High-defition exterior cameras aboard the ISS see Progress M-29M approaching, with Soyuz TMA-17M and Progress M-28M in foreground. NASA TV
Progress M-29 view of ISS

NASA TV

Progress M-29 view of ISS
Lower right spacecraft: Progress M-28M (foreground) and Soyuz TMA-17M. Upper right spacecraft: Soyuz TMA-18M

The next scheduled station launch is another Progress flight in late November. A crew rotation is scheduled less than a month later, when NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, ESA astronaut Tim Peake and cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko arrive on December 16. Kjell Lindgren, Kimiya Yui, and Oleg Kononenko depart December 22.

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