A Russian spacecraft attached to the international space station successfully fired its engines Wednesday during a brief test to check its systems, NASA officials said.
The unmanned Progress 19 cargo ship fired its engines at 4:12 p.m. ET, boosting the space station about 1,312 feet (400 meters) higher above Earth, Kylie Clem, a spokeswoman at NASA's Johnson Space Center, told Space.com.
While the engine burn lasted less than two minutes — about 114 seconds, to be precise — Russian engineers were eager to test the spacecraft’s thrusters after it failed to boost the station into a higher orbit last week.
“They tested one side of thrusters, and they’ll look at when to test the other side,” Clem said, adding that Russian engineers are looking over the data from the burn.
The failed Progress burn, conducted on Oct. 18, unexpectedly stopped short about two minutes into the first of two, nearly 12-minute maneuvers designed to raise the station to an altitude of about 224 statute miles (360 kilometers). Russian engineers believe a communications glitch between the spacecraft’s thrusters and the navigation computer — which is designed to shut down Progress engines when data drop out — may have caused the aborted burn, which left the station in orbit just shy of 212 statute miles above Earth (341 kilometers), NASA officials said.
Russian flight controllers planned to conduct two Progress engine maneuvers before a new cargo ship — Progress 20 — docks at the aft end of the space station’s Zvezda service module in December, NASA officials said.
Progress 20 is slated to launch toward the station on Dec. 21 and take two days to reach the orbital laboratory, where Expedition 12 commander Bill McArthur and flight engineer Valery Tokarev are currently working through their first of six months in Earth orbit.
Earlier this week, Russian flight controllers said they could perform additional Progress engine burns on Nov. 9 and Nov. 16 — or even later — due to the long lead time before Progress 20 is slated to launch, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported.
Meanwhile, McArthur and Tokarev are gearing up for the first of at least two spacewalks scheduled for their spaceflight. The two astronauts are expected to don U.S. spacesuits and work outside the station on Nov. 7. They have spent most of this week going over their tools and procedures to conduct the spacewalk, NASA officials said.