Just two days after cargo ship Progress M-15M departed from the International Space Station for a second time, its replacement is on the way. Progress M-16M launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome on August 1. The ship is testing a shortened route to ISS and due to arrive six hours after it launched.
The Progress line of cargo ships provide a regular supply of food, clothing, scientific equipment, and other necessities to the ISS crew. Usually, Progress follows the same approach as the Soyuz crew capsule, taking two days to maneuver into the proper orbital position for a rendezvous with the station. The six hour approach, while not critical for cargo runs, would be a boon for crewed trips, doing away with the extra consumables needed to sustain crew for two days plus the discomfort associated with remaining seated in the cramped capsule for that time.
The shortened trip is not a particularly new technology – it was considered and even tested during NASA’s Gemini program. The reason it hasn’t been employed is that the method limits potential launch windows. “It does impose more constraints on the geometry — the orbital mechanics — of the launch, because you have less time to catch up to the space station,” said space station flight director Edelen. “You’ve got to basically launch and be in the right spot, and the space station has to be in the right spot.”
If all goes well, the new flight plan could be certified for the manned Soyuz in 2013. With a backlog of experiments to run, the crew can make good use of every extra day they get.
Watch the launch below: