A Robotic Spacecraft Just Smashed the Record for Fastest Trip to the International Space Station

A Russian robotic spacecraft has smashed the record for the time taken to reach the International Space Station (ISS), managing the feat in a mere three hours and 40 minutes.

The Progress MS-09 or Progress 70 cargo ship—the former name is used by the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, and the latter by NASA—only did two orbits of Earth before docking with the ISS. The previous record time from takeoff to docking was around six hours, and that involved four orbits.

This was the first Russian cargo mission to demonstrate an “expedited capability” that will likely be used again in future, NASA said in a statement.

According to Space.com, the Russians had tried twice before to achieve this speedy feat, but had been thwarted on both occasions by lift-off delays that meant it was necessary to turn the trips into two-day missions.

The Russian spacecraft was carrying more than two tons of cargo, including fuel, air, maintenance equipment, and care and life support packs for the astronauts on board the ISS. Progress MS-09 will stay docked until late January.

The Russians’ success is a reminder that the ISS is, as its name suggests, an international endeavor. The new NASA administrator, Jim Bridenstine, is trying to get a consortium of private companies to take over the space station, but it isn’t simply the Americans’ to hand over.

Russia has its own part of the ISS—with which Progress MS-09 docked—and Japan, Europe and Canada share the American section. When Progress MS-09 leaves the ISS, it will take the whole Russian Pirs docking compartment with it—the Russians will replace the compartment with a new “multipurpose laboratory module.”

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