The first mission of the Soyuz MS-14 spacecraft that is carrying the humanoid robot Skybot F-850 to the International Space Station has been forced to abort its docking attempt due to a rendezvous system malfunction that occurred at the last moment.
Scheduled to dock early Saturday (24 August) at the MIM-2 Poisk module, a part of the Russian Segment, the first ever pilotless mission in the Soyuz series had just 200 metres to go to when its automated docking system looked to be struggling to lock on to its intended docking port.
During its final approach, cameras on the station and the transport ship showed the Soyuz moving from side to side, prompting cosmonaut Aleksei Ovchini to issue the abort command at 01.36 am EDT (05:36 GMT) when the two vehicles had come as close as 60 meters from each other.
"At no point was the crew in any danger," NASA spokesperson Rob Navias said of the space station's six-person crew during live commentary of the event.
According to NASA, after the failed docking, the Soyuz spacecraft entered an orbit above and behind the ISS, giving the spacecraft the chance to try again when it was back in a favourable position 24 hours later.
However, shortly after, mission control in Korolev told the ISS crew that the next docking attempt would be delayed until at least 25 August. Reports now say that a new docking attempt has been scheduled for Monday night at 11:12 pm EDT (03:12, 27 Aug GMT), but this time, the Soyuz MS-14 is scheduled to rendezvous with the Zvezda port; the structural and functional centre of the Russian Orbital Segment that also provides all of the station’s life support systems.
This will require something of a spaceship reshuffle, as currently anchored to this port is the Soyuz MS-13 which carried Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov, NASA astronaut Drew Morgan and European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano to the outpost just over a month ago.
It is now the job of Svortsov, Morgan and Parmitano to re-position the Soyuz MS-13 and park it at the space-facing Poisk module where the MS-14 was due to dock. If all goes well, by around 11:59 pm EDT tonight (03:59, 26 Aug GMT) the switch will be complete and the Soyuz MS-14 will have a new docking port to aim for on Monday.
“The Kurs [automated rendezvous] system on Zvezda has been checked out and is in perfect working order,” said NASA in a statement on Saturday.
NASA TV coverage of the docking Monday night will begin at 10:30 pm EDT (02:30, 27 Aug GMT).