An upgraded Russian cargo ship launched toward the international space station early Wednesday, hauling fresh supplies for astronauts aboard the orbiting lab. An antenna failed to deploy shortly after reaching orbit, making it likely that the spacecraft will have to be guided in manually by the station's crew, NASA officials said.
The unmanned space freighter Progress 31 lifted off atop a Russian-built Soyuz rocket at about 7:38 a.m. ET from the Central Asian spaceport of Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The spacecraft will dock at the space station on Sunday a few hours before the planned landing of NASA's space shuttle Endeavour, which is currently docked at the station and due to depart Friday.
Shortly after reaching space, one of several vital antennas for the spacecraft's automatic docking systems failed to deploy.
"Everything is working except for one thing," Russian Mission Control radioed up to the station crew. "One of the antennas did not deploy, it is still folded."
The antenna is one of two to be used during the spacecraft's final approach and berthing at the station's Russian-built Pirs docking compartment on Sunday at 7:23 a.m. ET.
Without the antenna, it is more likely that the space station's commander, NASA astronaut Michael Fincke, and Russian flight engineer Yuri Lonchakov will have to dock the Progress spacecraft from inside the station, using a remote control system called TORU.
"Make sure you refresh on everything so that everything is clear because the probability of using this mode is very high," Russian Mission Control called up.
"I copy," Lonchakov said.
Also known as Progress M-01M, the Progress 31 cargo ship is the latest in a series of Russian space freighters to launch toward the space station. Unlike its predecessors, the spacecraft is flying with new computer enhancements to be tested for Russia's future manned Soyuz vehicles.
The Russian Interfax News Agency reported that the spacecraft is carrying a modern digital control system.
Progress 31 is hauling about 5,342 pounds (2,428 kilograms) of cargo, which includes about 1,808 pounds of propellant, 463 pounds of water and 2,963 pound of equipment, experiments and other dry supplies, NASA officials said.
Meanwhile, astronauts aboard the shuttle Endeavour will pack up their own cargo module, which delivered 14,400 pounds (6,531 kilograms) of cargo, including a new recycling system that converts astronaut urine and sweat back into water for drinking, food preparation, bathing and oxygen generation.
They also tuned up the space station's balky starboard solar array-turning gear and installed two spare bathrooms, a second kitchen and bathroom, new gym equipment and a space food refrigerator.
Endeavour is due to undock Friday afternoon and land on Sunday at 1:18 p.m. ET.