An unmanned Russian spacecraft has docked successfully with the International Space Station to complete the key phase of an all-important and closely watched resupply mission.
The July 5 docking came three days after the launch of the Soyuz-powered Progress 60 spacecraft in Kazakhstan. After catching up with the ISS, the Progress docked a cargo capsule loaded with 3 tons of fuel and supplies.
The successful docking follows a string of three failed resupply attempts in the past year, including two in the past three months. The mishaps raised the stakes dramatically for the latest mission, as space-exploration critics already had been making ISS funding tough and some suggested another miscue could imperil the project.
The Progress was loaded with food, water, oxygen, propellant, spare parts and equipment for logistics and experiments. NASA said after a failed June 28 mission by SpaceX that the ISS had enough supplies to last until October, but nobody wanted to test that projection.
There are three crewmembers aboard the multinational ISS, including NASA’s Scott Kelly. Three others ended their mission tours last month, and three new crewmembers are set to travel to the ISS aboard a Russian spacecraft later this month.
Kelly’s reacted happily to the arrival of the cargo capsule:
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) July 5, 2015
NASA trumpeted the successful docking on its web site:
Traveling about 251 miles over the south Pacific, southeast of New Zealand, the unpiloted ISS Progress 60 Russian cargo ship docked at 3:11 a.m. EDT to the Pirs Docking Compartment of the International Space Station.
The Progress will be docked for four months, take on trash and discarded equipment, and then head back to Earth for a planned disintegration over the Pacific Ocean.
The mission is the first for a Progress spacecraft since the loss of a Progress cargo craft on April 28. In that mission, a Soyuz rocket used to propel the spacecraft failed due to a third-stage leak from fuel and oxidizer tanks. And in October 2014, an Orbital ATK Antares rocket exploded in a suspected engine turbopump misfire that caused the loss of of its Cygnus cargo ship.
An investigation into the SpaceX mishap continues.