A US-Russian three-man crew face an unprecedented two-day delay in their docking with the International Space Station (ISS) after their Russian Soyuz spacecraft suffered a technical glitch on its approach in orbit.
The two Russian cosmonauts and American astronaut were to have docked with the ISS early on Wednesday, just six hours after launch from Kazakhstan, but the problem means that the docking is now only planned on Friday.
The trio will now orbit the Earth 34 times before their rendezvous with the international space laboratory, instead of the fast track route of four orbits originally envisaged.
US-Russia space cooperation has continued undimmed, despite the diplomatic stand-off over Ukraine, and the joint work is seen as one of the few true success stories in post-Cold War ties.
Russians Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev, along with Steve Swanson of US space agency NASA, had taken off from Russia’s Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in a spectacular night-time launch that initially went off without a problem.
The issue arose once their Soyuz capsule was in orbit and a thruster failed to fire to assist its approach for docking with the ISS.
NASA said in a statement on its website that the Soyuz spacecraft “was unable to complete its third thruster burn to fine-tune its approach” to the orbiting space station.
The trio were using a fast-track approach to the ISS that Russia has been employing since 2013. After the problem, they are now using the traditional two-day longer approach that was employed up to 2012.
NASA said the three men were “in good spirits” despite the change of plan and that Russian flight controllers were reviewing data to work out why the third thruster burn did not occur as planned.
“Initial information indicates the problem may have been the spacecraft was not in the proper attitude, or orientation, for the burn,” NASA said.
The head of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos Oleg Ostapenko said the problem appeared to have been triggered by a hitch with the orientation system.
The head of the Russian rocket state firm Energia that supplies the Soyuz rocket that propels the craft into space however said that the origin of the problem was not yet clear.