Russia looks to Soyuz express. NASA TV
Russia is looking at a possible significant reduction in Soyuz crew transport flight times to the International Space Station -- a six-hour launch to docking as opposed to the current 50 hour transit.
Late Tuesday, the European Space Agency's Automated Transfer Vehicle boosted the station's mean altitude by just over three miles, setting up an Aug. 1 trial run of the prospect with an unpiloted 48 Progress mission.
If the Progress test is successful, a Soyuz crew may attempt the accelerated trajectory next year.
Currently, the two-plus-day trip of the Soyuz with its three-member crews requires a regular "barbecue" roll of the tightly quartered transport, alternating exposure of the capsule's exterior between sunlight and shadow for thermal control.
"That is not the most comfortable thing for the crews," said Kelly Humphries, a NASA space station program spokesman. "One possible solution is to condense the rendezvous timeline down to four orbits instead of the normal 34. This test with the Progress is going to use an unmanned vehicle to test the trajectory they would use for that."
ESA's Edoardo Amaldi Automated Transfer Vehicle, which has been docked at the 252-mi.-high station's aft docking port since late March, fired its thrusters for nearly 20 min. late Tuesday to set up an Aug. 1 Progress test run.
If Russia proceeds with the test, the automated freighter could lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Aug. 1 at 3:35 p.m. EDT, followed by a rendezvous and docking at 9:24 p.m. EDT the same day. Under the normal re-supply strategy, the same mission would launch on Aug. 1 at 3:38 p.m., then rendezvous and dock on Aug. 3 at 6:14 p.m.
Meanwhile, the Progress 47 capsule currently docked to the station's Russian Pirs module is scheduled to depart the orbital outpost on July 22 for a day-long test of a new KURS automated rendezvous antenna configuration, then redock late on July 23. Progress 47 would depart the station for good on July 30.
Japan's third unpiloted HTV-II resupply craft awaits a liftoff late July 20 from the Tanegashima Launch Center and a seven-day trip to the space station with 4.6 metric tons of cargo.