Uncrewed Soyuz MS-14 rocket aborts ISS docking attempt

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Russian cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) ordered an incoming Soyuz MS-14 rocket to abort its docking attempt on Saturday, according to a NASA report.

The spacecraft was supposed to complete the automated process at the orbiting lab’s Poisk module at 1:30 a.m. ET on Aug. 24. However, the ship was unable to lock onto its target during the final approach.

Consequently, the Expedition 60 ISS crew members called for the spacecraft to scrap the procedure. NASA reports that the Soyuz docking is delayed until Monday night.

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ISS Kurs System Issue

The Soyuz MS-14 rocket launched successfully from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Aug. 21. After a smooth two-day spaceflight, the craft began a normal approach outside of the ISS on schedule.

Spaceflight Now described video footage of the docking malfunction, reporting that the ship was “wildly pointing side-to-side, unable to maintain a stable lock on the station.”

Cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and ISS Commander Alexey Ovchinin commanded the rocket to abort docking at 1:36 a.m. ET. Russian officials suspected a problem with “a component associated with the Kurs automated rendezvous system for the Poisk module docking port,” according to a NASA statement.

The U.S. space agency added that the spaceship “could not achieve a solid telemetry lock to that docking port through the automated rendezvous system.”

NASA posted a photo of the MS-14 orbiting the Earth on Twitter, just minutes after the ISS crew members stopped the docking process.

Soyuz MS-14 Current Status

Currently, the Soyuz is orbiting at a safe distance from the ISS and is operating fine.

Instead of transporting crew members, the Soyuz MS-14 is carrying 1,450 pounds of cargo to the space station’s Expedition 60 crew.

Additionally, Russia launched its Skybot F-850 robot into space in the rocket’s center seat. The automated figure has two arms and two legs. While its form may resemble a “human,” the Skybot cannot operate flight controls.

Instead, Spaceflight Now reports that sensors on the robot’s body measure things like “acceleration, vibrations, temperature, and humidity—during the flight, including launch, docking, and landing.”

As Roscosmos plans future crewed missions, this data will undoubtedly be helpful. Unfortunately, the bot couldn’t do anything to assist in the MS-14’s initial ISS docking mishap. Upon arriving at the space station, Skvortsov will conduct multiple experiments with the Skybot.

Relocating Russia’s Soyuz MS-13 at ISS

Russian flight controllers suspect that a signal amplifier that is part of the Kurs rendezvous system at the space station failed. The current six-member ISS crew was not in any danger during the docking attempt.

In a revised plan, Skvortsov, NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan, and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Luca Parmitano will undock the Soyuz MS-13 spacecraft from its current position at the Zvezda service module. The trio will complete a 25-minute relocation procedure in which Skvortsov will fly the ship by hand and manually connect the MS-13 to the station’s Poisk module.

Moving the MS-13 will allow the ISS crew members to clear the port for the Soyuz MS-14’s second docking attempt. This time, the spaceship will lock onto the empty Zvezda port. The process will mark the first relocation procedure at ISS since August 2015.

Second Soyuz MS-14 Docking Attempt Time Set

If all goes as planned, the Soyuz MS-14 will make a second ISS docking attempt on Monday, Aug. 26 at 11:12 p.m. ET. The ISS shared the details in a Twitter post.

One day after the Soyuz MS-14 successfully docks, SpaceX’s Dragon cargo ship will robotically release from its port at the space lab. Following a four-week stay, the Dragon will return to Earth bearing cargo and scientific experiments that the ISS crewmembers completed in the microgravity environment.