Cargo ship docks with space station; Soyuz issue assessed

CBS News

After a two-day orbital chase, an unmanned Russian Progress supply ship carrying 2.9 tons of supplies and equipment carried out a smooth automated docking with the International Space Station Friday evening as the two spacecraft sailed into orbital darkness off the east coast of Brazil.

The view from a television camera aboard a Russian Progress supply ship on final approach to the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA TV)
Russian engineers, meanwhile, reportedly are assessing the possible impact of a problem with systems used by the descent module of the next manned Soyuz spacecraft, scheduled for launch March 30 to ferry three fresh crew members to the space station.

Alexi Krasnov, director of manned spaceflight for the Russian space agency, told the Itar-Tass news agency the problem with "service elements" of the Soyuz TMA-04M descent module was discovered after tests in an altitude chamber. He said it was too early to say whether the next launching will be delayed.

He noted, however, that three station crew members scheduled to return to Earth in mid March were launched two months later than originally planned and could easily extend their stay aboard the lab if the TMA-04M launch is, in fact, delayed.

"It is very good that (the problem was found) before the spaceship was brought to the Baikonur spaceport, because we have some time and possibilities to examine everything in detail," Krasnov said in an Itar-Tass translation.

The Progress M-14M/46P spacecraft was launched from Baikonur at 6:06:40 p.m. EST Wednesday (GMT-5; 5:06:40 a.m. Thursday local time). It was the first of five Progress flights planned for 2012 and the second successful launch in a row following a third stage failure last August that destroyed the M-12M spacecraft and disrupted the space station traffic schedule.

The M-14M cargo craft, carrying 2,050 pounds of propellant, 110 pounds of oxygen and air, 926 pounds of water and 2,778 pounds of supplies, spare parts and science gear, carried out a problem-free automated approach to the space station, easing into the docking port on the Pirs airlock module at 7:09 p.m. as the spacecraft passed 240 miles above the Atlantic Ocean just northeast of Rio de Janeiro.