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Russian cargo craft docks to International Space Station

Posted: February 5, 2014
Updated after docking

Russia launched a Progress resupply freighter Wednesday on a six-hour journey to the International Space Station, delivering nearly 3 tons of fuel and supplies to the orbiting scientific research laboratory after a smooth automated rendezvous.

The Soyuz rocket lifted off at 1623 GMT (11:23 a.m. EST; 10:22 p.m. local time) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Photo credit: NASA TV/Spaceflight Now
The unpiloted Progress M-22M spacecraft lifted off on top of a Soyuz rocket at 1623:33 GMT (11:23:33 a.m. EST) in temperatures below 0 degrees Fahrenheit at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, kicking off an expedited six-hour rendezvous with the space station.

The launch was timed for the precise moment necessary to reach the station in such a short time. The outpost was at an altitude of 260 miles over the western border of Kazakhstan near Volgograd, Russia.

Rick Mastracchio, one of the space station's six occupants, reported seeing the Soyuz rocket's fiery exhaust trail as the complex flew over Baikonur.

A series of rocket burns with the Progress craft's own thrusters fine-tuned the ship's path toward the complex, with the on-board automated rendezvous sequence commencing about two hours before docking.

The fast track rendezvous is now the standard approach for all Russian vehicles, including the Progress and crewed Soyuz capsules, replacing a longer two-day flight profile to the 450-ton complex.

Docking with the space station's Pirs module occurred at 2222 GMT (5:22 p.m. EST) as the vehicles flew over the Atlantic Ocean east of Florida.

The Soyuz rocket delivered the Progress to orbit about nine minutes after liftoff after launching into a clear night sky over the historic Baikonur launch base. The kerosene-fueled rocket shed its four strap-on boosters about two minutes into the flight, with its core engine and upper stage continuing to fire to propel the Progress M-22M spaceship into orbit with an altitude between 120 miles and 150 miles.

Moments after separating from the launcher's third stage, the Progress extended its two power-generating solar panels stretching 35 feet tip-to-tip, along with communications antennas and its navigation radar to guide the ship to docking with the Russian segment's Pirs module.

The Progress M-22M logistics ship is loaded with 1,446 pounds of propellant to be pumped into the Russian Zvezda service module, plus 110 pounds of oxygen and 926 pounds of water to bolster the space station's reserves.

According to the Russian Federal Space Agency, the Progress was also packed with 789 pounds of food, 286 pounds of medical supplies, 205 pounds of items for the Russian crew, 141 pounds of payload for crew hygiene, and 55 pounds of video and photographic equipment packed inside the spacecraft's pressurized compartment.

Other cargo stowed inside the Progress include hardware for the space station's thermal control, water supply and electrical systems.

The space station's Expedition 38 crew is led by veteran cosmonaut Oleg Kotov, who is joined aboard the outpost by flight engineers Sergey Ryazanskiy and Mikhail Tyurin of Russia, NASA's Michael Hopkins and Richard Mastracchio, and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata.

The mission marks the 54th Progress logistics flight to the space station since 2000, giving it the name Progress 54P in the program's matrix of assembly and utilization missions. It is also the 144th launch to the space station since the first component of the complex launched in 1998.

The spacecraft is due to remain docked to the space station until April 7.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.