On July 9th, a massive milestone for space travel was made. In just three hours and 40 minutes, a Russian robotic spacecraft set a record for the fastest time to reach the International Space Station (ISS). The spacecraft, otherwise known as Progress 70 or Progress MS-09 completed two orbits around Earth before landing at the ISS.
Now that the spacecraft has completed a successful voyage the six crew members of Expedition 56 will spend the next few months unloading over 3 tons of cargo including fuel, oxygen, water, food and other equipment.
The Progress 70 will remain docked at ISS until January of next year. Typically after these Progress capsules finish their mission and the cargo is unloaded, the ISS crew members stuff the vessel with waste and push it back into the Earth’s atmosphere to burn up. This time around, the Progress 70 will travel back home and take the Pirs docking compartment with it.
After 17 years, the old module is being replaced by Nauka, a new Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM). Originally the module was scheduled to launch in 2007 has been rescheduled to launch in August of next year. However, even after a decade of postponing, the Nauka Lab Module may not reach ISS until 2020.
What was so significant about this cargo mission was that it illustrated the expedited capability that modern space travel is close to obtaining. Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, hopes to utilize the 2-orbit flight profile for more Progress flights before using the profile for crewed missions. However, the success with Progress 70 shows great potential.
Roscosmos first launched Progress cargo missions to the ISS back in 2000. At that point in time, it took over two days for a Progress spacecraft to reach ISS.
Before the success of Progress 70, the previous record was set in 2013 with a travel time of about six hours. Over the course of four years, there have been two other attempts to complete a faster mission. However, those missions ended in delays resulting in the Progress shape crafts to take the old two-day route.
NASA spokesman Rob Navias raves that the launch was perfect and saying “third time’s the charm” rings true.