A resupply mission for the International Space Station, Progress MS-11, took off yesterday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, eventually docking with the space station and providing its inhabitants with over 5,400 pounds of supplies. In many ways it was exactly like the countless resupply missions carried out before it, but in one way it was very special.
The mission, which was carried out by Russian space agency Roscosmos, took just three hours and 21 minutes to go from Earth to a successful docking with the ISS. That’s incredibly fast, and it’s actually now the fastest trip to the International Space Station ever, beating out the previous record (also set by a Progress resupply spacecraft) by a solid 19 minutes.
The feat was enough for NASA’s ISS residents to take notice, with astronaut Nick Hague hailing the accomplishment as “impressive.”
A visitor arrived at @Space_Station today…the progress resupply vehicle made record timing as it launched and docked to the station in under three and a half hours. Pretty impressive! pic.twitter.com/S6Zy9daF04
— Nick Hague (@AstroHague) April 5, 2019
Getting from Earth to the International Space Station requires the resupply spacecraft to make multiple orbits of Earth, but the number of times it completes the orbit can differ. For a while, resupply ships made dozens of orbits before catching up with the ISS, but that all changed relatively recently with “fast-track” launches that allow the ship to catch the ISS in just two rotations.
This change dramatically shortens the time it takes for supplies to make it to the ISS, saving Roscosmos time and expediting the delivery of things like food, water, and oxygen. The Progress MS-11 resupply mission delivered all that and more, and did it with a record-breaking flight time.
Ensuring that resupply missions operate as efficiently as possible is something that Russia and NASA have been working on for a while now, and we’re just starting to see the fruits of that labor with speedier missions. Going forward, it’s not clear if there’s much more room to shave time off, but you can bet Roscosmos will try.