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 (opens in new tab) after undocking.
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 (opens in new tab).
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.
According to RussianSpaceWeb.com (opens in new tab), 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.
The @Space_Station is ready to receive the #Prichal module!The #ProgressMS17 undocked from the Nauka module, vacating the docking port for the Node Module. The Progress has removed a docking unit adapter, which ensured docking of Soyuz and Progress spacecraft with the Nauka. pic.twitter.com/R9JWpxuNFNNovember 25, 2021
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 (opens in new tab).
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).