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Russian cargo ship departs space station to make room for new docking module

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)

A Russian cargo ship departed the International Space Station early Thursday (Nov. 25) to make room for a new docking port that's already on its way to the orbiting laboratory. 

The automated Progress 78 cargo ship, also known as Progress MS-17, undocked from Russia's Nauka science module on the station at 6:22 a.m. EST (1122 GMT) and is doomed to a fiery disposal in Earth's atmosphere. Its departure clears the way for the arrival of Prichal, a new Russian docking port module, that launched to the International Space Station on Wednesday (Nov. 24). 

"The space station is ready to receive the Prichal module!" Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, the station's commander, wrote on Twitter after undocking. 

Related: Space Station's Robotic Cargo Ship Fleet (A Photo Guide)

The departure comes amid the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday in space, which the station's seven-astronaut crew will celebrate with a special turkey meal and maybe even a "turkey trot," according to their holiday video.

The Prichal module (it's name is Russian for "pier") is a 4-ton compartment bristling with six docking ports that will expand the space station's habitable volume by 494 cubic feet (14 cubic meters). It will use one of those docking ports to link up with the Nauka multipurpose laboratory on Friday (Nov. 26), leaving the other five available for visiting Russian vehicles. 

The Russian Prichal Node Module and its attached Progress M-UM propulsion stage undergo final processing at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan prior to its launch on Nov. 24. (Image credit: Roscosmos)

According to RussianSpaceWeb.com, Prichal will also be used for "testing architecture for potentially permanent settlements in space." It is being delivered to the space station by a modified Progress spacecraft that will eventually undock from Prichal for its own disposal.

But before Prichal can dock with the station, Progress 78 had to clear out. 

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Russia's space agency Roscosmos launched the Progress 78 cargo ship to the space station on June 29 and it arrived two days later. It delivered more than 3,600 pounds (1,630 kilograms) of supplies for the station's astronaut crew. 

With its mission at an end, Progress 78 was expected to burn up in Earth's atmosphere as it fell from space over the Pacific Ocean four hours after undocking, Roscosmos officials said in a statement.

The Prichal module will dock at the International Space Station Friday morning at 10:26 a.m. EST (1526 GMT). You can watch it live online, with NASA's webcast beginning at 9:30 a.m. EST (1430 GMT).

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com 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 Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. 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. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter.