The world’s first fully automatic docking of two spacecraft (unmanned versions of Soyuz spacecraft under the designations of Kosmos-186 and Kosmos-188) was performed on October, 1967, in USSR.

On October 27, 1967, at 12 hours 30 minutes Moscow Time, artificial Earth satellite Kosmos-186 was launched into the orbit with the following parameters:

initial orbital period of 88.7 minutes;

the maximum distance from the Earth surface (at apogee) of 235 kilometers;

the minimal distance from the Earth surface (at perigee) of 209 kilometers;

orbital inclination of 51.7 degrees.

On October 30, 1967, artificial Earth satellite Kosmos-188 was launched into the orbit with the following parameters:

initial orbital period of 88.97 minutes;

the maximum distance from the Earth surface (at apogee) of 276 kilometers;

the minimal distance from the Earth surface (at perigee) of 200 kilometers;

orbital inclination of 51.68 degrees.

After orbital insertion, both satellites equipped with special rendezvous systems and docking ports performed a number of complex maneuvers in space. Performed in automatic mode were mutual seeking, rendezvous, final approach and the two spacecraft docked with each other at 12 hours 20 minutes Moscow Time. 

The seeking, rendezvous, and docking were performed using special RF equipment and computers installed onboard.  

TV pictures showing the docked spacecraft, as well as telemetry data were transmitted back to Earth from the onboard radio and TV equipment and telemetry systems and were received by а network of ground tracking stations.

Hard-mated artificial satellites Kosmos-186 and Kosmos-188 continued for 3 hours 30 minutes their flight in the orbit with the altitude of about 276 kilometers, carrying out a program of scientific and technological research. 

Docked artificial satellites Kosmos-186 and Kosmos-188

Docked artificial satellites Kosmos-186 and Kosmos-188

At 15 hours 50 minutes Moscow Time on October 30, on command from Earth, the spacecraft automatically undocked, and then, using their own thrusters both spacecraft were moved into different orbits and returned to Earth.

The challenging scientific and technological problem of automatically docking spacecraft in orbit was thus solved. This opened broad prospects for assembling large space complexes capable of conducting complex and versatile space studies.

 

For information: Americans were the first to perform a manually controlled docking (spacecraft Gemini 8 docked with Agena rocket on March 16, 1966). Manual docking remains to this day the nominal operating mode for NASA – it was in manual mode that Space Shuttles docked with ISS. As for the automatic docking, neither NASA, nor European Space Agency have managed to master this technique. Installed on the European logistics vehicles ATV are Russian automatic docking systems, while US Dragon and Japanese HTV spacecraft are berthed to ISS with the use of robotic arms.

Automatic docking of spacecraft is a hallmark of Soviet/Russian space technology. The automatic mode is used to dock to the ISS Russian Segment manned spacecraft Soyuz, unmanned logistics spacecraft Progress and ATV. It is worth noting here, that in case of problems with the automatic equipment, Russian spacecraft also have provisions for switching to the manual docking mode. 

 

 

Корабль "Союз" с активным стыковочным узлом типа "штырь" стыкуется к МКСКорабль "Союз" с активным стыковочным узлом типа "штырь" стыкуется к МКС

Soyuz spacecraft with an active docking unit of the “probe” type is docking with ISS

Docking Compartment Pirs on the ISS RS with a passive “drogue”-type docking unit Стыковка КА "Союз" и" Аполлон" с универсальными (андрогинными) стыковочными узлами АПАС-75
Docking Compartment Pirs on the ISS RS with a passive “drogue”-type docking unit  Docking of Soyuz and Apollo spacecraft with androgynous docking portsAPDA-75

Стыковка европейского грузовика ATV с модулем "Звезда" российского сегмента МКС

 

 Docking of the European logistics vehicle ATV with Zvezda module of the ISS Russian Segment

 

 

 

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