Russian Progress Capsule Reaches ISS with U. S. Space Suit Repair Kit

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Russia's unpiloted Progress 52 supply craft docked with the International Space Station late Saturday, following an "express" four orbit, six hour launch to rendezvous. The freighter delivered 2.8 tons of supplies, including a NASA tool kit assembled earlier this week to deal with the space suit water leak that cut short a July 16 spacewalk by European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano.

 

Russia's Progress 52 nears ISS. Photo Credit: NASA TV

The automated linkup with the ISS Russian segment Pirs module occurred at 10:26 p.m., EDT. The Progress capsule lifted off atop a Soyuz booster from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 4:45 p.m., EDT, or Sunday at 2:45 a.m., local time.

 

Russian Soyuz rocket climbs to orbit with the Progress 52 supply capsule. Photo Credit: NASA TV

ISS command panel displays had difficulty receiving video of the approaching capsule, prompting the cosmonauts to monitor the final approach from Russian segment windows.

Last year, Russia introduced “express” Progress cargo as well as Soyuz crew transport missions as an alternate to the typical two-day launch-to-docking flight profile. An ISS berthing port for Progress 52 was cleared late Thursday, with the undocking of an older supply ship.

The new freighter's cargo includes spare parts, research gear and other equipment; propellant for ISS maneuvers; water; as well as compressed air and oxygen.

The tool kit was developed at NASA's Johnson Space Center and flown to Baikonur earlier this week, while U.S. experts continued their efforts to pinpoint the source of the leak that allowed 1 to 1 1/2 liters of water to seep into Parmitano's helmet, surrounding his eyes, ears and nose. Working by memory and feel, Parmitano made his way back to the safety of the station's U. S. airlock as his planned 6 1/2 hour excursion with NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy was halted after 93 minutes.

Much of the troubleshooting both aboard the ISS and at Johnson has so far focused on the suit's cooling system components.

The July 16th incident prompted a suspension of planned U. S. spacewalks in case the troubleshooting organized by NASA's Mission Control points to wider concerns involving all shuttle era space suits.

On Friday, Cassidy and NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg assisted flight controllers with assessments of the condensate water relief valve, water separator pitot tube and the integrity of the sublimator in Parmitano's suit.

"We got a lot of great data today. It helped to narrow our search a little bit. Although they are partial answers, they help in helping us determine exactly what is going on," NASA Mission Control's Doug Wheelock, told Cassidy in response to a question about whether the new tool kit would be put to use soon.

"The answer to your question is yes,” Wheelock informed Cassidy. The new supply capsule was to be opened Sunday.

The agency also announced the formulation of a Mishap Investigation Board earlier this week to identify cause and contributing factors as well as to recommend prospective changes to maintenance and operation procedures involving the NASA space suits.

The latest Progress mission has been assigned another duty as well.

When the freighter departs later this year, Progress 52 is to take with it the 12-year-old Pirs docking compartment for a destructive re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. Russia is preparing the ISS for the arrival of a replacement compartment, the Nauka Multipurpose Laboratory Module, possibly in December.

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