After ISS Docking, Antenna Glitch Delays Russian Cargo Ship Operations

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. (Image credit: NASA TV.)

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

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

The unmanned Progress 23 spacecraftmoored itself [image]to an aft port on the space station's Russian-built Zvezda service module at10:29 a.m. EDT (1429 GMT)--just one minute later than planned--as the outpost'sthree Expedition14 astronauts looked on.

"That's very good," said Expedition14 flight engineer MikhailTyurin, who watched over Progress 23's docking and was prepared to takemanual control of the automated Progress 23 vehicle should anything go awry.

After docking, Russian ISS flightcontrollers could not confirm that an antenna used to aid the Progress 23'sautomated KURS navigation system was fully retracted before docking at the ISS.An early inspection by Tyurin found that the antenna appeared to be partiallyextended, though video views of the area were obstructed by spacecraftstructure.

"That antenna was supposed to beclosed automatically 15 meters before docking," Russian flight controllers toldTyurin. "Our concern is that there is going to be some structure duringretraction."

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

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

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

Hauling cargo

Without Progress 23's hooks andlatches in place, the Expedition 14 crew would not be able to open cargo shipto get at its nearly 2.5 tons of equipment and supplies. The spacecraft was atno point in danger of drifting free of the ISS, NASA officials said.

In addition to Tyurin, Expedition 14commander MichaelLopez-Alegria and flight engineer ThomasReiter are also serving aboard the ISS.

The antenna troubleshooting measuresrequired the ISS to fly in a free drift mode, rather than in a controlledattitude, limiting the amount of power generated by the outpost's solar arraysand forcing energy conservation measures aboard the station, NASA officialssaid, adding that thrusters were later reinstated once Progress 23 was securelymated.

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

The spacecraft is also carryingvital replacement parts for the Russian-builtElektron oxygen generator [image],which wentoffline last month. Tyurin is expected to resume repair efforts on thegenerator next week with the new parts.

Reiter, the firstlong-duration ISS astronaut for the European Space Agency, has a specialtreat awaiting him aboard Progress 23. The spacecraft carries severalgourmet meals assembled by the French celebrity chef group Alain DucasseFormation for special occasions, France's National Center for Space Studiessaid.  

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

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.