August 18, 2022

Russia wants to speed up space station cargo deliveries with shorter, one-orbit flights

Russian cargo ship departs space station to make room for new docking module
Russian cargo ship departs space station to make room for new docking moduleRussian cargo ship departs space station to make room for new docking module

Roscosmos wants to speed up its deliveries to the International Space Station.

The Russian space agency released a proposal to allow its Progress cargo ships to arrive in a single orbit, which would mean stuff would arrive at the orbiting complex only two hours after launch, the agency said.

A statement on Roscosmos’ website says the Rocket and Space Corporation Energia (a part of the space agency) received a patent Nov. 12 for a single-orbit cargo flight.

Related: How Russia’s Progress spaceships work (infographic)

Testing of some elements began before the patent was issued, during the Progress MS-17 cargo flight in June and July 2021, Roscosmos stated, without providing further detail. More testing is expected in June 2022 during Progress MS-20.

“Single-orbit scheme Progress flight to the ISS is to be implemented from 2023,” Roscosmos added. That timeline assumes that all testing goes to plan and that the new orbit is approved.

Three spaceships are pictured attached to different ports on the International Space Station: Northrop Grumman's Cygnus NG-15 cargo ship at the Harmony module (left), the Soyuz MS-17 crew spacecraft docked to the Rassvet module (center) and the Progress 77 cargo craft at the Pirs docking compartment (right). The space station was flying 261 miles (420 kilometers) above the Bay of Bengal when this photo was taken, on Feb. 23, 2021.

Three spaceships are pictured attached to different ports on the International Space Station: Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus NG-15 cargo ship at the Harmony module (left), the Soyuz MS-17 crew spacecraft docked to the Rassvet module (center) and the Progress 77 cargo craft at the Pirs docking compartment (right). The space station was flying 261 miles (420 kilometers) above the Bay of Bengal when this photo was taken, on Feb. 23, 2021. (Image credit: NASA)

It’s not the first time Roscosmos has tweaked orbital timings. Both Progress and the crewed Soyuz ships were allowed to fly to the International Space Station using a four-orbit (six-hour) flight plan starting in 2012 and 2013, respectively, Roscosmos said.

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The shorter timespan was especially useful for crews, Roscosmos stated, as it “allowed cosmonauts to get used to the adverse factors of weightlessness in comfortable conditions on the ISS.”

Then in 2018 and 2020, respectively, Progress and Soyuz vehicles were allowed to use a two-orbit flight plan that brought cargo and people to the space station in about three hours. The fastest crewed flight to date, according to Roscosmos, was the Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft that sent a crew to the ISS just three hours, three minutes and 37 seconds after launch in October 2020.

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