Russian Cargo Craft Arrives, U.S. Space Freighter Launches Saturday

By Mark Garcia

The International Space Station
The International Space Station is pictured from space shuttle Endeavour after its undocking in February 2010.

Russia’s ISS Progress 77 resupply ship delivered over a ton of nitrogen, propellant and oxygen early Wednesday morning to the International Space Station. Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter is up next as it counts down to this weekend’s launch from Virginia to the orbiting lab.

The Progress 77 docked to the Pirs docking compartment on Wednesday at 1:27 a.m. EST following a two-day trip that began with a launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Commander Sergey Ryzhikov remotely guided the Progress 77 to its docking port with the TORU (tele-robotic rendezvous system) after the vehicle automatically switched over from the Kurs automated rendezvous system.

Ryzhikov and Flight Engineer Sergey Kud-Sverchkov then began a series of hours-long leak and pressure checks with the Progress 77. The duo finally opened the hatch to the new Russian cargo craft to begin transferring its cargo. Progress 77 will stay at the station for about 5 months when it will finally detach Pirs from the Zvezda service module’s Earth-facing port opening it up for the new Nauka multipurpose laboratory module.

Northrop Grumman is readying its next Cygnus cargo mission to launch this Saturday at 12:36 p.m. atop the Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Cygnus will be packed with about 8,000 pounds of science experiments, station hardware and crew supplies destined for the Expedition 64 crew.

Cygnus will orbit the Earth for nearly two days before its rendezvous with the station on Feb. 22. JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Soichi Noguchi will be on robotics duty early Monday and command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to capture Cygnus at about 4:40 a.m. NASA Flight Engineer Michael Hopkins will back him up monitoring Cygnus’ approach and rendezvous.