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Russia's new space freighter docks with ISS

The Russian Progress 31 cargo craft approaches the International Space Station for docking. Photo Credit: NASA TV

MOSCOW (BNS): An unmanned cargo carrier, Progress 31, has docked at the International Space Station's Pirs Docking Compartment after a four-day flight from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The freighter, which docked at 7:28 am EST on Sunday, used the backup TORU manual system. This happened because shortly after the launch, one of the two proximity antennas of the Kurs automated docking system failed to deploy.

Mission Control Moscow successfully commanded deployment of the antenna about three hours later, but Flight Engineer Yury Lonchakov used the TORU system to bring the Progress to its docking port, US space agency NASA said.

The new space freighter has delivered 2.5 tonnes of cargo to the orbital station, including food and water supplies for the current crew, as well as fuel and scientific equipment.

Earlier, the Mission Control in Moscow had said that the flight of the first cargo spacecraft in the new, digitally-controlled Progress M-01M series would take four days to check proper operation of all on-board systems. They would conduct checks to make sure the digital equipment responded promptly to their commands. "If there are no performance problems, it will switch to a regular two-day pattern of operation."

The P31 replaces the trash-filled P30 which undocked from the aft port of the Zvezda service module on November 14 and will de-orbit on December 7 for destruction in the Earth's atmosphere after geophysical experiments, NASA said.

P31 spent two extra days in orbit for testing its avionics upgrades, including a new main computer, accelerometers, telemetry downlink system, additional interfaces to the docking system and display overlays.

Describing Russia's new space freighter, NASA said the Progress was similar to the Soyuz spacecraft in appearance and some design elements, which brings crew members to the station, serves as a lifeboat while they are there and returns them to Earth. The aft module, the instrumentation and propulsion module is nearly identical.

"But the second of the three Progress sections is a refueling module, and the third, uppermost as the Progress sits on the launch pad, is a cargo module. On the Soyuz, the descent module, where the crew is seated on launch and which returns them to Earth, is the middle module and the third is called the orbital module."

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