Russian cargo ship fails to dock with ISS (Update)

Jul 02, 2010 by Stuart Williams
An unmanned Russian Progress cargo ship, seen here on the launch pad at the Baikonour cosmodrome in June, 2010, on Friday failed to dock as planned with the International Space Station (ISS) after missing the facility, mission control said.

An unmanned Russian Progress cargo ship on Friday failed to dock as planned with the International Space Station (ISS) after flying past the facility in a rare mishap, mission control said.

The Progress M-06M cargo ship, launched on June 30, is carrying 2.6 tonnes of fuel, food and water for the six astronauts on the station. Failure of automatic docking systems is known but a complete docking failure is very rare.

"The docking was scheduled at 20:58 Moscow time (1658 GMT)," a spokeswoman for mission control told AFP.

"The cargo ship passed the station, at a safe distance. It could be said that it missed. Now the vessel is 3.0 kilometres (1.8 miles) from the station. Our specialists are monitoring the situation."

"It is likely that there will be no further attempts to dock the vessel today," the spokeswoman added.

The ITAR-TASS news agency said that initially the ISS crew had tried to dock the cargo ship automatically but then there was a technical problem and they were not able to carry out the manoeuvre manually.

The Interfax news agency said that the ISS commander, Alexander Skvortsov had told mission control that the cargo vessel was seen in a state of "uncontrollable spinning".

However Russia's space agency Roskosmos insisted that the craft was now under control and a new attempt at docking would be made on Sunday.

US space agency NASA confirmed the incident, saying on its website docking "has been delayed due to a loss of telemetry" and that the resupply craft "flew past the ISS".

Lynnette Madison, spokeswoman for the Johnson Space Centre, NASA's centre for human space flight, said the incident was unusual but there was no danger for the six astronauts on board the ISS.

"This is something unusual. I have not seen this happen before, but we are not concerned about the people onboard the space station," she told AFP in the United States.

"There are no concerns, there are plenty of supplies aboard the station. Whenever the Russians decide to make another attempt, I am sure everything will be fine and they will attempt to dock."

A spokesman for mission control outside Moscow told the official RIA Novosti news agency that the mishap was not an emergency situation.

"Information has come via telemetry that there is no emergency situation on the cargo ship."

A commission will be formed to investigate the causes of the incident within the "shortest possible time", Russian space officials told Interfax.

The automatic docking system also failed during the last Progress supply ship docking in May although the process was successfully carried out manually.

Interfax quoted a mission control official as telling the crew: "At this point, please have your dinner. Docking has been cancelled. Nor is any work being done on the Progress. But please stay in contact."

The incident is an irritation for the Russian space programme, which is used the proudly touting how its manoeuvres have proceeded without a slip.

Russian spacecraft will bear the burden of all manned spaceflight to the ISS when the US shuttle programme is scrapped after its two final flights expected this year or early 2011.

The ISS, which orbits 350 kilometres (220 miles) above Earth, is a sophisticated platform for scientific experiments, helping test the effects of long-term space travel on humans, a must for any trip to distant Mars.

Including Skvortsov, there are currently six astronauts aboard the station. The others are Americans Tracy Caldwell Dyson, Doug Wheelock and Shannon Walker and Russians Mikhail Kornienko and Fyodor Yurchikhin.

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User comments : 10

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fmfbrestel
5 / 5 (2) Jul 02, 2010
oops. time to get a new caddy, will be tough to save par from there. :-)
CarolinaScotsman
2 / 5 (2) Jul 02, 2010
This starkly demonstrates the inadvisability of relying on one space program to keep the ISS running. The shuttle program should be extended until the next generation of heavy lift vehicles becomes operatiomal. It is no savings to pay someone else as much or more than we would spend ourselves on launches. That expense will not go away, unless we totally abandon all manned space projects, an unthinkable choice.
jdp
4 / 5 (1) Jul 02, 2010
Suspect they're not reinvesting adequately into the Progress program. They're far beyond smart and capable enough to solve that perennial problem area. I'd guess it's about money.

What did we do with that X-33 Venture Star? Oh, yea, we scrapped it when it wasn't shiney enough to repell all punditry.
fmfbrestel
5 / 5 (1) Jul 02, 2010
As I recall, Venture Star had some fairly fatal problems with its gas tank. However with some of the advances we have had with carbon composites you would think someone would buy the patents away from Nasa and try to further develop it -- like Bigelow did with the inflatable space habitats.
plasticpower
5 / 5 (2) Jul 03, 2010
This is the first time ever that the Progress wasn't able to dock completely. If I recall correctly, until recently this was the only ship capable of such automated docking. I would assume that's because it is an extremely complicated procedure for a computer to understand. This seems like a telemetry glitch, a sensor problem of some sort. I assume it will dock just fine on the second attempt. Interesting what exactly happened because the Progress has been auto-docking for years.
warmer
1 / 5 (2) Jul 03, 2010
Am I the only one that finds it awfully coincidental that this took place just days after we outted 10 of their spies in the US... Hmmmm...
yyz
5 / 5 (1) Jul 03, 2010
@plasticpower,

During the final phases of auto docking of the Progress, one of the Russian cosmonauts on the ISS closely monitors the procedure. If he detects an anomaly, at his discretion, he can override the automated system and manually dock Progress. As you note, autodocking is a complex procedure. Manual overrides are not uncommon (the last four Progress vehicles were manually docked, IIRC). While I don't know the particulars in this case, my guess is a consensus was reached by ISS commander Alexander Skvortsov and Russian ground control to park the Progress at a safe, stable distance, work the problem, and try again. The abort was unusual, though.

@warmer,

Who knows, stranger things have happened. o_0
CarolinaScotsman
3 / 5 (2) Jul 03, 2010
What did we do with that X-33 Venture Star?
It was more of a political decision than a technical failure. For the whole story, go to http://www.nasasp...appened/ .

Although officially dead. Lockheed Martin has continued with much of the engineering. Following excerpt from Wikipedia:

"Recently Lockheed Martin has been testing a new and different 1/5 scale rocket described to be similar in capabilities and design, known now simply as a "Space Reusable Launch Vehicle". Two tests were conducted secretly at the Spaceport America in New Mexico. The first on December 19, 2007 was billed as a complete success, while the August 12, 2008 launch ended in an irreparable crash after 12.5 seconds of flight. A third test on October 10, 2009, was another success."
gwrede
2 / 5 (2) Jul 03, 2010
Well, at least from now on, the pre-docking procedure should include closure of all internal airlocks, positioning the ISS crew at the other end of the ISS, and some redesigning of the cargo vessel approach path.

If NASA were as prudent as the FAA, then any such incident would be thoroughly reviewed and corrections would be issued to avoid the hazards here discovered.

It doesn't seem at all inconceivable that a docking spacecraft rams the docking port. This should not result in loss of the *entire* ISS crew.
yyz
5 / 5 (1) Jul 03, 2010
It will be interesting to see what - if any- modifications are made after the Russians conclude their investigation.

"It doesn't seem at all inconceivable that a docking spacecraft rams the docking port. This should not result in loss of the *entire* ISS crew."

Hopefully nothing like a 1997 docking of a Progress vehicle to Mir: "1997 June 25: collision in space: At Mir during a re-docking test with the Progress-M 34 cargo freighter, the Progress freighter collided with the Spektr module and solar arrays of the Mir space station. This damaged the solar arrays and the collision punctured a hole in the Spektr module and the space station began depressurizing. The on-board crew of two Russians and one visiting NASA astronaut were able to close off the Spektr module from the rest of Mir after quickly cutting cables and hoses blocking hatch closure."

Source: Wikipedia

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