A Russian cargo ship delivered a fresh load of fuel, food, and other supplies for the International Space Station on Tuesday, making it in record time.
The Progress MS-09 lifted off as scheduled at 3:51 a.m. local time on July 10 from the Russia-leased Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for a journey that lasted just under four hours.
The unmanned spacecraft loaded with almost three tons of supplies docked at the station in automatic mode less than four hours after the launch. That would be the fastest trip yet for a mission to the space station.
Energia space flight strategists hope that the two-revolution pattern will be applied to manned missions, too, but this will require several more launches of the Progresses on two-revolution rendezvous.
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The Progress 70 launch is Russia's third attempt to fly a superfast mission to the space station.
The fastest-ever cargo run took less than four hours, rather than the usual two days, due to a carefully planned, time-saving, two-orbit trajectory that Russian Federation wants to use for crewed as well as uncrewed flights. Ultimately, Progress 69 launched on the 2-day flight profile as well.
The new navigation system surely helped, but the speed at which a cargo ship can reach the space station depends on a number of different factors, not least of which is the position of the station itself in Earth's orbit. The vehicles look like Russia's crewed, three-module Soyuz spacecraft but can not carry people.
The cargo vehicle will remain at the orbital outpost until late January 2019, NASA said.