October 31, 2011
Successful Sunday Launch For Russian Cargo Freighter
Sunday morning's scheduled launch of an unmanned Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) cargo ship went off without a hitch, marking the first successful liftoff since an August crash led to concerns over the future of Russian space travel and the International Space Station (ISS).
According to Reuters reports, the Progress freighter successfully launched from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome at 6:11 a.m. Eastern time. The cargo ship will travel to the $100 billion ISS, delivering food, fuel, and supplies for the half-strength, three-person crew currently on board the station.
"It is expected to dock Wednesday at the station, which is as large as a five-bedroom house and took the United States more than 10 years to build," Amie Ferris-Rotman of the news agency reported. "It is used to conduct research and test new technologies in the unique environment of microgravity."
On Saturday, a Reuters article noted that the Progress cargo vessel contains a motor that is "nearly identical" to those used in Roscosmos' Soyuz rockets, which are used to transport astronauts and cosmonauts to the space station.
Due to an earlier upper-stage rocket failure with another Progress craft, operations on the ISS have been handled by a three person crew -- American station commander Mike Fossum, Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov, and Japan's Satoshi Furukawa -- for what reporter Irene Klotz referred to as "an extended period of time."
In the wake of Sunday's successful launch, manned flights to the ISS are expected to resume on November 14, with new crew arriving at the space station on November 16.
Fossum, Volkov, and Furukawa are expected to depart on their return journey to Earth two days later, according to a Saturday report by Klotz, and their replacements should arrive on the space station sometime between December 21 and December 26.
"It's going to be a fast handover, but they've been making preparations," including creating training videos, NASA spokesperson Kelly Humphries told Klotz. "In general, they've been doing what they can to document the location of systems and items that crew is going to need."
Had the Progress launch failed, it could have delayed the departure of the new ISS crewmembers, and with the existing crew scheduled to come home in mid-November, it would have marked the first time since November 2, 2000 that the ISS would have been left unmanned, Reuters reported Saturday.
The Roscosmos Soyuz rockets are currently the only means of transporting astronauts and cosmonauts to the space station, as NASA terminated their space shuttle program over the summer. According to Klotz, U.S. space officials pay their Russian colleagues approximately $350 million annually for the service, though NASA is attempting to secure additional funding to help the development of private-sector spacecraft domestically.
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