Spacecraft sets record travel time to ISS in just over three hours

1 Aug 2019

Progress MS-12 approaching the ISS. Image: NASA

In the same amount of time it may take you to fly on your summer holiday, a spacecraft has travelled from Earth to the International Space Station.

The Russian space agency Roscosmos has announced the dawn of a new rapid transportation age in space. As part of the Progress MS-12 mission – dubbed Progress 73 by NASA – an uncrewed spaceship carrying tonnes of supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) successfully docked with the orbiting laboratory.

Blasting off on top of a Soyuz rocket from the Russian space complex at Baikonur, Kazakhstan, on Wednesday (31 July), the mission has shown that a speedy resupply of the ISS is the new norm.

In a statement, Roscosmos said: “The total flight time from the start to the docking was three hours 19 minutes, making the spacecraft the fastest in the history of the flights to the ISS. The previous record was set by the previous Progress spacecraft, which got to the ISS in three hours 21 minutes.”

Those on the space station now include Nick Hague, Christina Koch and Andrew Morgan of the US, Russians Alexander Skvortsov and Alexey Ovchinin, and Luca Parmitano of Italy.

The Progress craft is vital to the survival of astronauts on board the ISS as not only does it bring vital supplies, it also acts as a giant refuse disposal vehicle. Once it is full and a new supply mission is on its way from Earth, the astronauts will jettison the older Progress, which is designed to burn up in the atmosphere, along with all their waste.

Progress MS-12 is expected to stay attached to the ISS until December 2019, by which time it too will be jettisoned and burned up in the atmosphere over a patch of the Pacific Ocean with minimal maritime traffic.

According to SpaceFlight Insider, the next vehicle expected to leave the ISS is the NG-11 Cygnus which has been attached since April. Once released, it will remain in orbit for five months until it re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere to burn up. During those months, a robot astronaut on board called Astrobee will be tested, as well as a range of different biological experiments.

– With additional reporting from PA Media

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic