Officials at the Russian Federal Space Agency (RosCosmos) say that the Progress 47 resupply capsule successfully docked to the International Space Station (ISS) on early Sunday morning, on July 29, demonstrating the capabilities of the upgraded Kurs-NA automatic docking system.
Unlike its predecessor, called Kurs, the new system has upgraded algorithms and electronics and only requires a single antenna, as opposed to the usual six. This means that it consumes less energy, while at the same time providing an increased level of safety.
Progress 47 undocked from the space station on July 22, after delivering supplies to the six-astronaut permanent crew, earlier this year. Plans called for the spacecraft to redock to the station on July 23.
However, a technical error forced mission controllers to abort the procedure. The capsule was set on a course that brought it in position for a second attempt early on Sunday. This time, the error did not appear.
The vehicle docked to the Earth-facing port of the Russian-built Pirs module at 0101 GMT. Before docking occurred, Progress 47 was moved to within 46 kilometers (29 miles) of the ISS, and then maintained position as mission controllers analyzed and checked all electronic systems.
After Russian engineers were convinced that everything was in order, they allowed the capsule to move forward, and dock to the station. The maneuver was simply meant to test the new docking system. The spacecraft will soon undock again, and head for Earth's upper atmosphere.
The vehicle is filled with thrash and other unnecessary items collected from the ISS. Like all Progress capsules before it, the vehicle will burn in the upper layers of Earth's atmosphere. At this point, its final undocking is scheduled to occur at 1811 GMT today, July 30.
Just a couple of days from now, on August 1, the Progress 48 space capsule is scheduled to launch for the ISS, delivering supplies for the Expedition 32 crew. The spacecraft will carry food, water, oxygen, fuel and scientific experiments.
Launch is scheduled to occur from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, in the steppes of Kazakhstan.
Progress 47's successful docking maneuver came just one day after the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV-3) arrived at the ISS, delivering another round of supplies.
Unlike the Russian Progress capsules, the Japanese HTV spacecraft cannot dock automatically. Rather, they move very close to the station, and then get grappled via the Canadian-built Canadarm-2 robotic arm, Space