back to article Russia slashes space station ship trip to just six hours

Russia's space agency Roscosmos has successfully tested a new route that gets its spaceships to the International Space Station in an eighth of the time it usually takes. Progress M-16M blasts off from Baikonur The Progress M-16M zipped up to the ISS in just six hours – four orbits – instead of the two days – 34 orbits – it …


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  1. Andrew James

    Any chance of any detail on the reason why the previous approach required so many more orbits? Why did the boffins not use this quicker approach route in the first place?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      ... What took them so long to figure it out? I mean, it's not like we're dealing with rocket science here... uh... nevermind

    2. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Sigh, there was a large list of issues the NASA guy talked about yesterday, and none of the websites are covering it.

      This route takes a lot more launch precision. The new window is about 1 second long, so no unusual holds or issues, or you're out of the game.

      Second, it collapses any sort of time to fix issues in orbit. You go straight from launch to rendezvous w/o any sort of breather in-between.

      Third, it requires a little more out of the flight control system. Until recently, Soyuz didn't have much in the way of a guidance system, but now they've gone to an actual digital autopilot with real computers.

      So they have not had launch/in-flight issues with Soyuz/Progress for a long time, so they figured it's not much of an issue any more.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. simon newton
        Thumb Up


        came to ask the questions to those answers. Did not leave disappoint.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @ simon

          * DISAPPOINTED

          You might want to look up something called the past tense...

          Also, I hope that you write your name with capital letters when it matters.

    3. Vulch

      The slow route

      Taking two days over getting there means the launch window can be longer and timing of the various engine burns and staging events can be a bit looser. Some of the Gemini flights in the 60s even demonstrated first orbit rendezvous, but that requires everything to go perfectly. With the number of launches (getting on for 2000) and the amount of development (50+ years) that has happened with the Soyuz launcher it's likely the current version has tolerances well within what's needed for the shorter trip.

      On the other hand, the longer trip gives crew a chance to get over any space sickness before trying something complicated like a docking. So far there's no reliable way to tell who will and who won't be affected by it, and someone who was fine on one flight may be barfing the next time up. Two days by no coincidence whatsoever is how long it takes to get adapted.

      1. Simon Bradshaw

        Re: The slow route

        As you say, NASA developed rendezvous techniques on the basis of docking within hours of launch. This was in large part because this work was aimed towards having the LM dock with the CSM after a lunar landing, and the LM ascent stage had to dock as quickly as possible; it just couldn't carry the consumables for a prolonged flight. Even for Skylab, the Apollo ferry craft made RV within hours of launch. It wasn't until Apollo-Soyuz that NASA moved to the long-chase model of docking.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    >quarter of the time it usually takes.

    >just six hours

    >instead of the two days

    2 days = 48hrs. 48/4 = 12.

    12 != 6

    1. Bodestone

      Re: Ummm

      You beat me to it.

      For the sceptics out there who don't believe it is an eighth an know that google never lies:

    2. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Ummm

      You are correct. Oops. Article amended.


    3. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge

      Re: Ummm

      >> ...quarter of the time it usually takes. just six hours instead of the two days


      2 days = 48hrs. 48/4 = 12.

      12 != 6


      No! No! No! Don't be daft.



  3. Dave Perry


    I appreciate there is probably some waste on there that would otherwise end up in landfill (so inceneration is fair game), but is there really so little or no recyclable waste coming from the ISS? Let alone the metal and stuff in the craft that could be recycled or the whole craft reused?!

    1. Colin Miller

      Re: Recycling?

      Probably too expensive to install parachutes, their control system/sensors and heat shields to make it worth while. Remember LEO launch costs are around $21,000 USD/kg for the Ariane 5, and around $7,000/kg for Ariane 4. Progress is approx. the same cost as Ariane 4.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Recycling?

      It's being recycled, just at the atomic level...

    3. Beachrider

      Re: Recycling?

      Obviously, there is extensive recycling of water, oxygen and some other resources.

      Apollo heat shields used to be a special thing. They were made by a proprietary company that went bankrupt. They used to cost over $250K for 3,000 pounds of 2.5 inch deep material. Some of them seriously cracked. The Shuttle's 24,000 TPS tiles cost up to $2K for each 13 inch by 10 inch tile (at least they were 'often' reusable).

      Dragon & Orion are planned to have a reusable heat shield for human-rated flight. It costs ~$60-100K.

      They still aren't cheap.

  4. DPR

    Took a short cut - obviously.

  5. Levente Szileszky

    So it's not only faster but...

    ...must be also a lot cheaper, da?

    1. Elmer Phud

      Re: So it's not only faster but...


      We now have a Zil lane for important people and a non-Olympic lane for everyone else.

    2. Bodestone

      Re: So it's not only faster but...

      Not necessarily.

      Usually the faster routes are more fuel intensive. The 2 orbits would have been the previously calculated way to get there on minimum fuel burn. That burn would drop you into an orbital pattern that would get you close in 2 orbits with no further fuel usage. OK, so you may save a bit on rations...

      1. Gene Cash Silver badge

        Re: So it's not only faster but...

        This isn't any more fuel intensive, it just requires a hell of a lot more accuracy in the launch. But there's a huge list of benefits, so it's worth it.

        1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

          Re: there's a huge list of benefits

          There is one benefit, apparently : gets there in 6 hours.

          That means that an eventual emergency rescue operation can enter the realm of possibility.

          However, to get this boost in speed the launch needs to perfect - not just "more accurate". Timing, launch profile, ascension, everything needs to be good to within the second.

          This speed boost comes at a zero-tolerance price.

          So I now ask : what if the launch is botched ? What happens if the launcher lifts on time, but loses an engine before reaching orbit and has to go for an additional burn or some other somesuch that voids the short trip ? Can they revert to the 2-day schedule, or is the whole thing written off and they just abort and go for re-entry ?

  6. The Vociferous Time Waster


    It's a well known FACT(tm) that 60% of people leaving school have a below average understanding of maths.

    1. hayseed

      Re: Maths...

      That's actually quite possible in skewed distributions - average /= median

  7. The Axe

    It's getting a bit busy up there. Next they'll be installing traffic lights.

    1. auburnman

      "ISS this is control, some mail has just come in. Who was in charge of the vehicle last August? They've got a speeding ticket."

    2. Gene Cash Silver badge

      No kidding. There's a ESA ATV there, 2 Soyuz, the Progress, a JAXA HTV2, and all they need to complete the set is a Shuttle or Dragon... Every nation has a vehicle at ISS except the Americans.

  8. Gordon 10 Silver badge

    Missing a trick

    If I was in charge I'd be launching me rocket downwards and slingshotting past the Earths core.

    Might annoy the Morlocks but they don't count.

    1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

      Re: Missing a trick

      You've been playing too much Kerbal space program

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Not a bad idea, but your rocket would have to be made of unobtanium. Do you have any idea of how much that weighs ?

  9. Joe User

    What, no more stopping off at Kiev for some borscht?

  10. Slartybardfast

    I know why

    They've started using Nav Sat

    1. Vaughan 1

      Re: I know why

      I can just see the headlines now "Astronauts End Up In Lake After Following Wrong Sat Nav Instructions"

  11. Peter 39

    what's time to a pig?

    Do the fuel, oxygen and supplies actually care how long it takes?

    1. Simon Bradshaw

      Re: what's time to a pig?

      For resupply missions, time isn't important. But the Progress supply ship is an unmanned version of the Soyuz spacecraft, so it makes sense to test out new rendezvous techniques on Progress first and then implement them on Soyuz. Given that Soyuz is rather cramped, cutting the time from launch to docking from two days to a few hours would be a major improvement.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Whatever happened to

    Plasma shielding?

    IIRC this involves using a superconducting magnet whose field interacts with the re-entry plasma and shunts it aside.

    1. Mako

      Re: Whatever happened to

      Given the state of the art, I think I'd rather rely on an ablative heat shield that passively does its job, rather than one that required activation, power, serious chilling (for the superconducting magnets) and continual monitoring.

  13. DanceMan

    "an actual digital autopilot with real computers"

    So they're now using computers? What could possibly go wrong?

    1. Annihilator Silver badge

      Re: "an actual digital autopilot with real computers"

      " The 9000 series is the most reliable computer ever made. No 9000 computer has ever made a mistake or distorted information. We are all, by any practical definition of the words, foolproof and incapable of error."

      1. Vic

        Re: "an actual digital autopilot with real computers"

        > We are all, by any practical definition of the words, foolproof and incapable of error."



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