Russian Robotic Spacecraft Bumps Up ISS-Bound Shipments to Same-Day Delivery

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Progress 48 launch at Baikonur Cosmodrome. [Credit: Roscosmos]
Getting stuff shipped to you here on the surface of Earth is a pretty simple process, thanks to Amazon Prime two-day shipping and other overnight services. Astronauts in space, however, face a much longer delivery process to get fresh life-sustaining supplies like air and water.

To expedite the process, NASA and Roscosmos (Russian Federal Space Agency) scientists used an unmanned spacecraft to complete a record-breaking same-day docking procedure. Soon after the Progress 48 cargo freighter launched into space, it managed to catch up with the orbiting ISS and offload its supplies in less than six hours.

Progress 48 originally launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on August 1st. After reaching Earth’s orbit, it performed additional calculated burns of its engines to boost itself to the ISS in a short amount of time. This maneuver actually harkens back to the old Gemini Program when NASA astronauts would dock spacecraft together while in orbit on the same day they were launched.

The maneuver allows the spacecraft to arrive much faster than the typical two-day process that space shuttles would carry out. At the same time, because the launch window is so small, the launch has be done at the exact right time so that the craft lines up with the International Space Station's trajectory. The procedure itself is also risky and it requires very precise math. If something we’re to go wrong, astronauts could run into trouble or go completely off course.

NASA and Roscosmos plan to perform another unmanned test flight later this year. If the second trial proves to be successful, they hope to adapt the maneuver for use in a manned Soyuz capsules.

Now, how about two-day shipping to homes on Mars?

[Space via Popular Science]

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