Russia's Progress 46 re-supply ship approaches within 50 meters of the International Space Station late Friday. Docking followed as the two spacecraft flew 250 miles off the northeast coast of Brazil. Photo Credit/NASA TV
Russia’s Progress 46 supply capsule conducted a successful automated docking with the International Space Station late Friday, as U. S. and Russian flight control teams prepared for a possible weekend maneuver of the nearly one million pound orbital lab to avoid a potential collision with a fragment from a Chinese weather satellite blown apart in a 2007 anti-satellite weapons test.
The space freighter linked to the station’s Russian Pirs berthing port at 7:09 p.m., EST, delivering nearly three tons of propellant, supplies, spare parts and research gear.
The supply mission, the station’s first of 2012, was launched aboard a Soyuz-U rocket late Wednesday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Throughout the week, the U.S. Space Surveillance network and NASA’s Mission Control team monitored the erratic orbital course of the Fengyun 1-C satellite fragment. The debris posed a low to medium collision hazard to the station over the course of seven passes from late Saturday through early Sunday, according to NASA on Friday.
The station is currently staffed by six U. S. Russian and European astronauts.
Collision assessments have been challenged by high solar activity, which has caused the trajectory of the fragment to fluctuate. In addition, Friday’s docking imparted forces that could influence the station’s orbital path.
As Friday’s docking proceeded, NASA’s Mission Control team prepared for an avoidance maneuver on Saturday at 6:50 p.m., EST, or 55 minutes ahead of the predicted first closest approach of the debris.
China's Jan. 11, 2007 anti-satellite test, which used a missile to destroy an old weather satellite, created more than 3,000 pieces of debris.