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Expert: transport ship’s manual docking with ISS “working procedure”

November 30, 2013, 19:48 UTC+3 MOSCOW
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MOSCOW, November 30, 19:42 /ITAR-TASS/. The manual docking of the transport ship Progress M-21M with the International Space Station (ISS) instead of the automatic one during the trial run of the new Kurs-NA rendezvous system last night was a “working procedure,” former Soviet Minister of General Machine-Building Oleg Baklanov said.

“This is a very complex rendezvous system, which can operate in several modes that duplicate each other to increase reliability,” he told ITAR-TASS on Saturday, November 30.

He cautioned against dramatising the situation. “It was a trial run of the new system. This is normal technical work. It’s not a tragedy that the last stage of the docking was performed manually,” Baklanov said.

He noted that such situations were inevitable with new systems. “People should be allowed to do their work calmly. There is no need to work things up,” he said.

The Russian transport ship Progress M-21M docked with the ISS manually because of a misalignment in the rendezvous system, Energia Rocket and Space Corporation President Vitaly Lopota said earlier in the day.

“Up until 30 metres the rendezvous process went normally but then problems began when the projected and gauged parameters did not match. The system stopped the rendezvous and put it on hold. Then, to save the fuel, we switched over to remote piloting and docked the transport ship,” he said.

Lopota noted that the purpose of the new Kurs-NA rendezvous system’s flight testing was to detect problems. “The system is on trial but we always have backups to do everything properly,” he added.

“We have no complaints to make to the system’s designers,” Lopota stressed.

Progress M-21M docked with the ISS at 02:30 Moscow time on November 30. It was supposed to dock automatically using the Kurs-NA rendezvous system but in the last 50 meters ISS Commander Oleg Kotov took over and finished the docking process manually using remote control joysticks.

The Kurs docking system, made initially in Ukraine, was made in Soviert and later Russian space programmes. It provided navigation beaconing for Russian space vehicles including the Soyuz spacecraft and Progress spacecraft. Kurs provided the automated docking system for all Russian spacecraft that docked with the Mir space station. When used for docking, the Soyuz or Progress vehicles broadcast radar pulses from multiple antennas. The variation in strength between the antennas allows the system to compute relative position, attitude, and approach rate. The system is designed for automatic rendezvous and docking, but in emergency cosmonauts may take command of the vehicle either locally or from the International Space Station.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Kurs system became the property of Ukraine; its manufacturer became a competitor in the space launch business with Energia. Short of hard currency, Kiev also raised the price of the Kurs system. Consequently, Energia sought to phase out its use in its vehicles

The Kurs-NA docking system is replacing Kurs-A which required five rendezvous antennas, the Kurs-NA will require only one and it will also use less power. It was tested by Progress M-15M in July 2012 and by Progress M-21M in November 2013.

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