Russian space station resupply rocket launches, docks at ISS

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Russia offers US space station help after rocket explodes
Moscow (AFP) Oct 29, 2014 – Russia on Wednesday offered to help the United States with deliveries to the International Space Station after an unmanned American supply rocket exploded on lift-off. “If a request is made for the urgent delivery of any American supplies to the ISS with the help of our vessels then we will fulfill the request,” Russian space agency official Alexei Krasnov told state-run RIA Novosti news agency, adding that NASA had not yet asked for assistance.
An unmanned rocket owned by private firm Orbital Sciences Corporation exploded Tuesday in a giant fireball and plummeted back to Earth just seconds after a launch from Wallops Island, Virginia on what was to be a resupply mission.
Orbital’s Cygnus cargo ship was carrying 5,000 pounds (2,200 kilograms) of supplies for the six astronauts living at the research outpost, a US-led multi-national collaboration.
Officials said the cost of the rocket and supplies was over $200 million, not including the damage caused on the ground.
Europe stopped delivering supplies to the ISS this summer, and the outpost is now resupplied by Russia and two NASA-contracted private American firms — Space X and Orbital Sciences.
Russia on Wednesday successfully launched its own supply mission from the Baikonur launch site in Kazakhstan.
The Russian cargo ship Progress took off for the ISS on a planned mission to replace a sister vessel.
Krasnov said that the impact of the loss of the rocket on Russian operations at the space station would be “minimal.”
A day after a space station resupply rocket exploded in midair only seconds after launching from Wallops Island, in Virginia, the Russian space agency made things look embarrassingly easy — successfully linking up a ship full of precious cargo with the International Space Station.
Launched early Wednesday morning, the Progress M-25M spacecraft (also known as 57P) docked and delivered supplies to ISS astronauts only hours after taking off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The cargo ship was carried into space by a Russian Soyuz rocket — three tons of supplies in tow.
The successful launch and linkup completed a reversal of fortunes and upturned the recent narratives surrounding the space programs of the U.S. and Russia. A series of high profile mistakes have had Russian space officials blushing in recent months, while commercial space flight companies in the U.S. have forged ahead with expanding capabilities and new, improved technologies.
But with the explosion of Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket Tuesday evening — just a day after its the launch was postponed by the unexpected presence of a stray boat — Russia’s tried and true Soyuz rockets are looking a bit better.
Tuesday’s explosion not only destroyed the robotic cargo ship and rocket built by the Virginia-based company, but also obliterated more than 2 1/2 tons of supply materials. NASA officials said they were investigating the mishap, but insisted ISS astronauts would manage fine without the delivery and that NASA’s work with Orbital would be undeterred.
“Orbital has demonstrated extraordinary capabilities in its first two missions to the station earlier this year, and we know they can replicate that success,” William Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Directorate, said in a press release after the incident.
“Launching rockets is an incredibly difficult undertaking, and we learn from each success and each setback,” Gerstenmaier added. “Today’s launch attempt will not deter us from our work to expand our already successful capability to launch cargo from American shores to the International Space Station.”
Ahead of Tuesday’s rescheduled Antares rocket launch, NASA officials predicted the blastoff would be visible (weather permitting) up and down the Eastern Seaboard. They didn’t expect, however, that it would be an exploding fireball lighting up the skies.