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Russia's International Space Station Resupply Chain Restored with Progress Docking


HOUSTON -- Russia's Progress 60 resupply capsule successfully docked with the International Space Station early Sunday, delivering more than 6,100 pounds of fuel, water, food and other supplies that should ease concerns over future operations brought on by recent back to back U.S. and Russian cargo mission failures.

The automated freighter, also designated M-28M, locked into the Russian segment's Pirs docking module at 3:11 a.m., EDT, where it was greeted by the station's three residents, cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Mikhail Kornienko and NASA astronaut Scott Kelly.

The linkup restores the station's Russian supply chain, which was disrupted by an April 28 launch failure in which the Progress 59 capsule spun out of control after a faulty separation from the third stage of its  Soyuz 2.1a rocket. The damaged supply ship made an uncontrolled re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere nine days later with more than three tons of undelivered cargo.

“It just feels like Christmas in July,” one of the ISS cosmonauts told Russia’s Mission Control Center moments after the linkup.

The newly arrived Russian freighter is scheduled to remained docked to the station until late November. Progress 58, which docked to the ISS in February, is to depart in early September so that it can be replaced by Progress 61 late in the month.

The April 28 Russian loss was followed July 3 by the launch explosion of SpaceX's Falcon 9/Dragon 139 seconds into flight after rising from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on what was to be the company's seventh commercial resupply mission under a $1.6 billion NASA contract. Troubles with the station's U. S. side commercial re-supply chain emerged Oct. 28, when Orbital ATK's Antares/Cygnus rocket and supply capsule detonated moments after lifting off from Wallops Island, Va.

Investigations into both the SpaceX and Orbital ATK mission losses remain underway.

Orbital ATK, however, is preparing for its fourth ISS cargo delivery under a $1.9 billion NASA contract this fall using a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 as the launch vehicle for its Cygnus capsule.  The Dulles,  Va., based company plans to resume missions with its upgraded Antares rocket from Wallops next spring.

The latest Russian Progress mission lifted off early Friday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, settled into its initial orbit nine minutes later, then deployed solar arrays and navigation antennas, a sequence of critical events that signaled the latest cargo delivery was off to a positive start.

Prior to the launching, ISS mission managers estimated the station was provisioned into late October -- even with concerns about the adequacy of water supplies.

Currently, ISS mission managers plan to resume normal six person station operations with the July 22 Soyuz launching of three new crew members, NASA's Kjell Lindgren, Japan's Kimiya Yui and Russia's Oleg Kononenko. Their launching was postponed from late May after the Progress 59 resupply mission failure.

The arrival of additional crew members is to be followed in mid-August with the launching of Japan's fifth H-II TV cargo mission. Its success would provide additional confidence that six person ISS operations could be supported into late 2015 as Orbital and SpaceX continue with their recovery efforts.

The European Space Agency's final ATV space station re-supply mission came to an end last February, placing additional burden on the future successes of Russian, U.S. commercial and Japanese cargo deliveries.

Among the cargo lost on the latest  SpaceX Dragon mission was the first of two Boeing manufactured International Docking Adaptors, cornerstones in NASA's efforts to establish a commercial crew vehicle docking capability. NASA intends to begin launching astronauts to the station by late 2017 using Boeing and SpaceX contracted launch services -- if the initiative is sufficiently funded.



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