A robotic Russian resupply ship linked up with the International Space Station this morning (Feb. 15) to deliver 3 tons of cargo, including fresh food, supplies and science gear for the astronauts on board.
The Progress 69 resupply ship docked at the aft end of the space station's Russian-built Zvezda module at 5:38 a.m. EST (1038 GMT) as both spacecraft flew 250 miles (400 kilometers) above Earth, over the area just east of the Philippines.
Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, launched the new cargo ship Tuesday (Feb. 13) from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan after a two-day delay. An initial attempt to loft the cargo ship on a swift, 3.5-hour trip to the station was aborted in the final minute Sunday (Feb. 11) due to an unspecified problem.[How Russia's Progress Cargo Ships Work (Infographic)]
Roscosmos was unable to try the new fast-track flight plan for Progress 69 because of that delay; the station would be in a different position. Instead, the agency opted for a two-day rendezvous for the resupply flight.
Russia's Progress cargo ships and Soyuz crew capsules traditionally took two days to reach the International Space Station after launch, but in 2013, Russian engineers devised a faster 6-hour flight plan to cut down the trip to a single day. The new 3.5-hour flight plan would deliver a Progress vehicle to the space station after just two orbits of Earth, compared with the four orbits it takes for the 6-hour approach. Two-day trips to the space station typically require 34 orbits around Earth.
Progress 69 is packed with vital supplies for the station's six-person Expedition 54 crew. Those supplies include3,128 lbs. (1,418 kilograms) of spare parts and other gear; 1,940 lbs. (880 kg) of propellant; 53 lbs. (24 kg) of air; and 48 lbs. (21 kg) of oxygen.
The station's Expedition 54 crew is made up of NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei, Joe Acaba and Scott Tingle; Russian cosmonauts Alexander Misurkin and Anton Shkaplerov; and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Norishige Kanai. The space travelers will unpack Progress 69 and then fill it with trash and unneeded items over the next six months. In August, Progress 69 will depart the space station and burn up in Earth's atmosphere.
The launch and docking of Progress 69 aren't the only big events for the space station's crew this week. On Friday (Feb. 16), Tingle and Kanai will venture outside the station on a spacewalk that is scheduled to last 6.5 hours.
You can watch that spacewalk live here, courtesy of NASA TV, beginning at 5:30 a.m. EST (1030 GMT).