After ISS Docking, Antenna Glitch Delays Russian Cargo Ship Operations
A view from the Progress 23 spacecraft after its Oct. 26, 2006 docking at the ISS.
Credit: NASA TV.

This story was updated at 2:15 p.m. EDT.

A Russian space freighter hauling fresh food, oxygen and vital spare parts for the International Space Station's (ISS) arrived at its orbital destination Thursday after a successful rendezvous marred by a last-minute antenna glitch.

The unmanned Progress 23 spacecraft moored itself [image] to an aft port on the space station's Russian-built Zvezda service module at 10:29 a.m. EDT (1429 GMT)--just one minute later than planned--as the outpost's three Expedition 14 astronauts looked on.

"That's very good," said Expedition 14 flight engineer Mikhail Tyurin, who watched over Progress 23's docking and was prepared to take manual control of the automated Progress 23 vehicle should anything go awry.

After docking, Russian ISS flight controllers could not confirm that an antenna used to aid the Progress 23's automated KURS navigation system was fully retracted before docking at the ISS. An early inspection by Tyurin found that the antenna appeared to be partially extended, though video views of the area were obstructed by spacecraft structure.

"That antenna was supposed to be closed automatically 15 meters before docking," Russian flight controllers told Tyurin. "Our concern is that there is going to be some structure during retraction."

Russian flight controllers decided to delay driving a series of hooks and latches--used to secure Progress 23 to its Zvezda docking port--until they resolved the antenna issue, and called for Tyurin to activate a remote docking control system aboard the ISS to control Progress 23's systems that allowed flight controllers to take video of the antenna, NASA commentator John Ira Petty said, adding that Tyurin could have used the system to manually undock the cargo ship from its perch if required.

But later, photographs of the Progress supply ship relayed to Earth by the Expedition 14 crew apparently showed that the antenna was in fact retracted, Petty said, prompting Tyurin to deactivate the space station's remote docking system.

After more than three hours of scrutiny, flight controllers commanded hooks and latches on the Zvezda side of the docked spacecraft to close on Progress 23 at about 2:01 p.m. EDT (1701 GMT), Petty said.


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Hauling cargo

Without Progress 23's hooks and latches in place, the Expedition 14 crew would not be able to open cargo ship to get at its nearly 2.5 tons of equipment and supplies. The spacecraft was at no point in danger of drifting free of the ISS, NASA officials said.

In addition to Tyurin, Expedition 14 commander Michael Lopez-Alegria and flight engineer Thomas Reiter are also serving aboard the ISS.

The antenna troubleshooting measures required the ISS to fly in a free drift mode, rather than in a controlled attitude, limiting the amount of power generated by the outpost's solar arrays and forcing energy conservation measures aboard the station, NASA officials said, adding that thrusters were later reinstated once Progress 23 was securely mated.

Progress 23 is carrying some 4,812 pounds (2,182 kilograms) that include: 2,784 pounds (1,262 kilograms) or dry cargo, such as food, clothing, science equipment and spare parts; 110 pounds (49 kilograms) of oxygen; and 1,918 pounds (869 kilograms) of propellant.

The spacecraft is also carrying vital replacement parts for the Russian-built Elektron oxygen generator [image], which went offline last month. Tyurin is expected to resume repair efforts on the generator next week with the new parts.

Reiter, the first long-duration ISS astronaut for the European Space Agency, has a special treat awaiting him aboard Progress 23. The spacecraft carries several gourmet meals assembled by the French celebrity chef group Alain Ducasse Formation for special occasions, France's National Center for Space Studies said.  

Progress 23 launched [image] towards the ISS on Monday, but is not the only Russian cargo ship currently docked at the ISS. An older spacecraft, Progress 22, is currently berthed at the space station's Pirs docking compartment and is due to be discarded in January to make way for a new supply ship.

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