An unpiloted Russian cargo resupply ship made space history on Tuesday when it docked with the International Space Station (ISS) after a journey of under 4 hours, breaking the previous 6-hour record on a spaceflight that traditionally takes two days.
The Progress 70 cargo vehicle had launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 2151 GMT and docked at the ISS 3 hours and 48 minutes later.
The space station has been receiving so-called “fast-track” Progress cargo resupply ships since 2013, when Russian space agency Roscosmos started testing the space vehicles to make the journey in four orbits or about 6 hours, according to old posts on NASA’s website and space.com.
But the expedited flights are still in testing stage and similar cargo journeys continue to have a default “two-day rendezvous profile” to reach the space station in 34 orbits, the space agency said on its website.
This was Russia’s third attempt to break the 6-hour record, according to space.com.
The space agency had tried in October of 2017 and again in February of this year, but last-minute glitches forced the agency to pursue the traditional 2-day-long and 34-orbit profile, the website said.
Tuesday’s cargo docking was to delivery nearly three tons of food, fuel and other supplies for the station’s Expedition 56 crew. The Progress 70 cargo ship will remain at the orbital outpost until late January 2019, NASA said.
NASA said these fast-track flights to the ISS demonstrate the “expedited capability” that could be used on future launches of Russian cargo and crew missions.
Space exploration agencies hope the flights will eventually allow astronauts and cosmonauts to routinely make the trip to the ISS in just a few hours — instead of the two-day journey in cramped conditions they currently have to endure in order to reach the world’s only orbital laboratory.