A Russian Progress spacecraft has docked safely with the International Space Station (ISS) after a tense approach that left controllers considering a last-minute manual takeover.
The Russian Progress MS-15 spacecraft was launched aboard a Soyuz 2.1a from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 13:26 UTC. Following just two orbits and less than four hours, the spacecraft approached the ISS halting within 200 meters before the final approach command was given.
On approach to the ISS, Progress spacecraft utilise Kurs, an automated docking navigation system. As Progress MS-15 approached within 20 meters of the station, the Kurs system faulted leaving the spacecraft up to 10 degrees wide of the Pirs docking port.
The misalignment persisted within just 5 meters of the station prompting Roscosmos cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin to get ready to take control of the spacecraft.
In addition to the automated Kurs system, Progress spacecraft are fitted with a manual backup system called TORU. The system allows a cosmonaut aboard the space station to take control of the spacecraft in order to perform a manual docking. It utilises a camera mounted on the spacecraft facing the docking port, and two joysticks to control the movement and orientation of the spacecraft.
Just as it looked like the manual backup would be required, the misaligned quickly shrank and the spacecraft made a pinpoint docking. Within just a few meters of the completed docking, a ground controller could be heard on the livestream asking Ivanishin to not do anything stating, “Everything is nominal Anatoly, don’t do anything.”
With the Progress MS-15 brings with it 2.5 tons of cargo for the crew of the ISS. The cargo includes food, water, oxygen, fuel, and equipment for a myriad of experiments being performed aboard the orbiting laboratory.