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Russia wants to speed up space station cargo deliveries with shorter, one-orbit flights

The Russian uncrewed cargo ship Progress 78 undocks from the Nauka module of the International Space Station on Nov. 25, 2021 to make room for the new Prichal docking module in this photo by cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov.
The Russian uncrewed cargo ship Progress 78 undocks from the Nauka module of the International Space Station on Nov. 25, 2021 to make room for the new Prichal docking module in this photo by cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov. (Image credit: Roscosmos/Anton Shkaplerov)

Roscosmos wants to speed up its deliveries to the International Space Station.

The Russian space agency released a proposal to allow its Progress cargo ships to arrive in a single orbit, which would mean stuff would arrive at the orbiting complex just two hours after launch, the agency said.

A statement (opens in new tab) on Roscosmos' website says the Rocket and Space Corporation Energia (a part of the space agency) received a patent Nov. 12 for a single-orbit cargo flight.

Related: How Russia's Progress spaceships work (infographic)

Testing of some elements began before the patent was issued, during the Progress MS-17 cargo flight in June and July 2021, Roscosmos stated, without providing further detail. More testing is expected in June 2022 during Progress MS-20.

"Single-orbit scheme Progress flight to the ISS is to be implemented from 2023," Roscosmos added. That timeline assumes that all testing goes to plan and that the new orbit is approved.

Three spaceships are pictured attached to different ports on the International Space Station: Northrop Grumman's Cygnus NG-15 cargo ship at the Harmony module (left), the Soyuz MS-17 crew spacecraft docked to the Rassvet module (center) and the Progress 77 cargo craft at the Pirs docking compartment (right). The space station was flying 261 miles (420 kilometers) above the Bay of Bengal when this photo was taken, on Feb. 23, 2021. (Image credit: NASA)

It's not the first time Roscosmos has tweaked orbital timings. Both Progress and the crewed Soyuz ships were allowed to fly to the International Space Station using a four-orbit (six-hour) flight plan starting in 2012 and 2013, respectively, Roscosmos said.

The shorter timespan was especially useful for crews, Roscosmos stated, as it "allowed cosmonauts to get used to the adverse factors of weightlessness in comfortable conditions on the ISS."

Then in 2018 and 2020, respectively, Progress and Soyuz vehicles were allowed to use a two-orbit flight plan that brought cargo and people to the space station in about three hours. The fastest crewed flight to date, according to Roscosmos, was the Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft that sent a crew to the ISS just three hours, three minutes and 37 seconds after launch in October 2020.

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Elizabeth Howell
Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.